In Ian Hamilton’s third novel featuring Ava Lee, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, the forensic accountant looks into a case of art fraud.
Could you describe the series’ origins?
The series is rooted in my years of traveling around the world; in conducting business in strange places with strange people; in my interest in different cultures and societies; and in having spent my entire life surrounded by strong, amazing women. And Ava Lee is most certainly like that. She isn’t perfect, makes mistakes, gets hurt physically and emotionally, but she never quits.
Why make her a forensic accountant?
These days, those accountants have the potential to be new heroes. Economic theft is almost endemic, and the effect on individuals and families can be far more devastating than any physical crime. Think of Bernie Madoff, and the suicides and destroyed lives and families he left in his wake. The forensic accountant’s ability to find money that has strayed is amazing. The central theme of each book is one economic crime or another, and I enjoy putting Ava onto the money trail. Unlike regular accountants, Ava doesn’t go to court to collect.
How do you use violence in your books?
There is some violence in all of the books, but it comes as a natural part of the storyline and is usually buried in the middle or near the end, as Ava confronts her targets. So these are not by-the-number murder mysteries with the inevitable body in the first chapter. The stories are about chasing the money. They are still fraught with peril, because it is one thing to find it, but another to convince the villain to return it, and resistance is normal. I like to think that the real tension and danger involved are reality-based and flow from characters and plots.
What misperceptions of Asian women were you hoping to counter?
There’s a perception that Asian women are generally meek and submissive. During the years I worked in Asia, I learned differently. There’s a cadre of young, professional, well-educated women there who are forming the hard core of business and government. In the process of doing that though, they don’t abandon cultural values such as respect—bordering on veneration—for the elderly and basic politeness. Many Westerners mistake this politeness and respect as weakness, and it’s only when they try to push the women around that they discover the truth. On a larger scale, the notion that Asian women view themselves as somehow being inferior intellectually to men is also ridiculous. There have been more female presidents and prime ministers in Asia than anywhere.