Ava Lee

Created by Ian Hamilton

“I chase bad debts for a living. You can’t be cynical enough.”
— Ava responds to accusations that she’s too cynical for “someone so young” in The Disciple of Las Vegas

The spin is that if Jack Reacher and Lisbeth Salander had a daughter, she might well turn out like Toronto-based AVA LEE, a Canadian/Chinese genius freelance forensic accountant, computer hacker, martial arts expert and all-round prodigy; 115 pounds of deadly and “just about unbeatable perfection.”

Or she might not.

Personally? She kinda scares me.

Oh, she sounds interesting enough, with a long list of endearing, quirky or otherwise intriguing character traits that, somehow, never quite gel. It’s almost like she was market-tested and this is what they figured would sell:

She makes a point of drinking instant coffee. Check.

She’s ruthless. Check.

She’s a lesbian. Check.

Or maybe bisexual. Double check!

She has a taste for the finer things, and never met a brand name she didn’t make a point of noting. Check.

She has daddy and mommy issues, and family drama is never far away. Check.

She has a large circle of twenty-something friends, mostly Chinese-Canadian, from her days at York University. Check.

She just wants a girlfriend who’ll be nice to her. Check.

She kneels by her bad and prays to St. Jude regularly for guidance. Check.

She’s at home all over the world. Check.

All potentially interesting; none particularly convincing. The parts just don’t add up to a believable whole.

And if things do get too dicey, she has an even more ruthless partner, the possibly Triad-connected Uncle Chow, who has his own rather special skill set and can apparently quickly provide assorted Hawk-like henchman to protect Ava no matter where she is.

And so, with Uncle backing her play, Ava cons, hacks and swindles her way around the globe, retrieving stolen money on behalf of their clients, dodging vengeful hitmen, Italian mobsters, Guyanan crimebosses, Scottish scam artists and assorted other high-moneyed miscreants, and thinks nothing of using everything from blackmail to torture and mutilation to get what she wants. Like, cutting a guy’s thumb off? Sure.

And she’s the good guy? Me? I think she’s a nasty piece of work.

But I guess a lot of people think she’s okay… she’s certainly never boring.

The Water Rat of Wanchai (2011), the first Ava Lee novel, was the winner of the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel and a finalist for the CBC Bookie Awards (Mystery and Thriller), and was an Amazon.ca Top 100 Book of the Year, an Amazon.ca Top 100 Editors’ Pick, an Amazon.ca Canadian Pick, an Amazon.ca Mysteries and Thrillers Pick, as well as a Toronto Star Top 5 Fiction Book of the Year, and a Quill & Quire Top 5 Fiction Book of the Year. Curiously, the first release for the American market was the second novel, The Disciple of Las Vegas (2011), although it’s being billed as the first in the series.

Ava Lee’s creator, Ian Hamilton, has worked as everything from a journalist to a diplomat. His articles have been featured in Maclean’s and Saturday Night Magazine. He lives in Burlington, Ontario, with his wife, Lorraine. In 2015, launched a kind of series-within-a-series, The Triad Years, which follows Ava as she heads off to China to confront the Triad, and in 2019, Hamilton launched an actual spin-off series, following the early adventures of Ava’s beloved Uncle Chow, from his escape from China’s Great Leap Forward in the fifties to his early days in the Hong Kong Triad.


  • “Ian Hamilton makes the global search for hidden money as thrilling as James Bond fleeing down a snowy slope on one ski. Ava Lee is tough, fearless, quirky, and resourceful, and she has more—well, you know—than half a dozen male detectives I can think of. Ian Hamilton knows his stuff, and he has created a true original in Ava Lee.”
    –Linwood Barclay, author of No Time for Goodbye



Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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