This is an unusual Italian thriller in that it is not set in Italy, nor in Europe, but in the far east, and unusual also in the lack of political and social undertones which are rather common to the Italian giallisti.
The architect Vittorio Sarli is called to Hong Kong to identify his late brother Giorgio, who has been found brutally killed in his house. Vittorio is unconvinced by the circumstances and wants to reconstruct the events of the last weeks of his brother’s life. He meets Julia, the editor of an ecological magazine, and her ward Lin May, a photographer and ex drug addict who occasionally works for the magazine.
While grieving and reconstructing his brother’s life, Giorgio and the local investigator Leung find worrying and dangerous connections to the Russian and international mafia.
The descriptions and sense of place are what I most liked about this book: even the dampness of the weather in Hong Kong comes across in the writing of an author who has clearly lived in those places. The diversity between different attitudes, the western and the Chinese, is also rather aptly described. However, I missed a more engrossing description, which could have supported more strongly and in more detail the framework of the plot.
The characters also have an interesting underpinning, but are not developed quite as much as I would have liked: i like the original idea of the victim’s brother trying to find closure by investigating the last weeks of the victim’s life, but feeling and events seem to be described almost incidentally. Vittorio’s relationship with the Chinese investigator, Leung, is something between professional and friendly – and neither seems to be very realistic.
Another interesting idea in the book which I think is not quite treated in sufficient depth is the cultural divide between east and west: we read a lot about Leung’s daughter, who is a troubled teenager, but this doesn’t quite contribute to the picture of the Asian culture and I am not sure how it fits with the main story of the book.
All in all, a book with decidedly interesting ideas, which if had been unravelled sufficiently would have made a very good, fast-paced thriller exploring different cultures.