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#goodchinesereads ~ Chan Ho-kei

The Borrowed (excerpt), translated by Jeremy Tiang

Flash Reviews

Lorna Amor, 28/11/19

This excerpt offers a back-row seat in what the reader might imagine to be a dimly lit detective’s office; world-weary cops who’ve seen it all before trying to determine if rumours of a crime against a celebrity are true or not, a complicated web of Triad connections pinned together on the obligatory solve-all noticeboard in front of them. What a treat to be introduced to Hong Kong noir this way.

Chan Ho-Kei’s The Borrowed spans decades of police work around the city, each of the six novellas in the collection following the career of one man, Detective Kwan Chun-Dok, as he solves crimes committed during six significant incidents in Hong Kong’s contemporary history (1967-2013).

While we don’t particularly get a taste of this complex plot layering from this extract (taken from the second novella, set in 2003), what we do glean is a murky picture of a modern, star-studded underworld, with the lead detective and his colleagues dropping map pins around Hong Kong the way Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe guides us on a tour of LA. Consistently sharp translation gives us true-to-life, punchy dialogue framed in screen-play ready scenes. We get to know the city and its players on most familiar terms. Fast-paced mafia action blends with gritty police work, all told to the beat of the city.

Would I recommend reading Tiang’s translation of Chan’s The Borrowed? I would. Here’s a collection of novellas for crime fiction junkies, Sinophiles and historians alike. Its simplistic whodunnit formula hides a full social sciences tour of Hong Kong, all peppered with a healthy dose of bling. I loved it.