Ian Hamilton's Ava Lee crime series sends his alluring, clever heroine, a forensic accountant, to exotic locales in pursuit of millions of dollars in uncollected debts. The newest Ava Lee novel, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, finds Ava summoned by one of the most powerful men in China, Wong Changxing, who needs Ava to track down $100 million. This adventure takes Ava—and her mentor, Uncle—to London, the Faroe Islands, New York and Denmark.
In a guest post, Hamilton shares how his Ava Lee series keeps readers turning the pages without all the blood and violence that permeates so much of today's crime fiction.
Guest post by Ian Hamilton
Some time after the first few books in my Ava Lee series were published, I was in a conversation with an agent (not mine) when she surprised me by saying, "There aren't enough bodies in your books. You need to put a body in the first chapter."
That was accurate enough. There were hardly any bodies at all, and certainly none in a first chapter. Today, I can think of any number of responses to her comment. At that moment, I had none. What I should have said is:
To begin with, my heroine and her work are unconventional. Ava is in her mid-30s, a Chinese-Canadian accountant who chases bad debts for a living in partnership with Uncle, her elderly Hong Kong-based mentor and friend. One would hardly expect an accountant to come across a lot of dead bodies.
She and Uncle take on cases of economic fraud or outright theft. Their clients are people who have exhausted all legal means and are desperate. Uncle says to Ava, "We're not only in the business of recovering their money, we are in the business of salvaging their lives."
And how true that is.
It is my belief that economic fraud and crime is more devastating to more people than any murderer—juiced up or not, serial or not, wickedly clever or not. Take the case of Bernie Madoff. How many lives did he destroy? How many suicides did he cause? How many families did he rip apart? How many futures did he waste?
Even if not every, or any, economic crime is of a scale of Madoff's, the pain is as acute to those it touches.
That's when you need Ava and Uncle.
Finding the money is the first part of their job—much as it is for the forensic accountants working for Deloitte & Touche and other accounting firms. But when it is located, recovering it becomes the major challenge. Deloitte has to take people to court; the thieves in my books have to deal with Ava. There is always initial resistance to return what they stole, and they look at Ava—five foot three and 115 pounds—and figure they can run over her. They can't. During the course of her career she's been attacked by tire irons and knives; she's been punched, kicked, cursed and spat at; and she's been shot. She still prevails.
"People always do the right thing for the wrong reason," Uncle says. It is a motto Ava has adopted as her own.
It is actually a quote from Saul Alinsky, the late and great Chicago-based community organizer. I heard it from his mouth in Banff at a conference when I was young and impressionable. It is still one of the truest things I've ever heard.
Using Alinsky's maxim, Ava works to identify and then exploit the weaknesses of the thieves she goes after. Some are emotional, others are physical. Whatever they are, she doesn't hesitate much to zero in on them.
In some ways, Ava is an anti-heroine. She does some things that aren't particularly nice. She doesn't care, at least not enough to deter her, because as Uncle always says, "The clients are all that matters."
So although my books aren't littered with bodies or gratuitous violence, there is definitely the thrill of the chase and enough physical danger and interaction to cause excitement.
Thanks, Ian! Readers, will you check out the Ava Lee series? The Wild Beasts of Wuhan is out now!