I’m a huge fan of classic detective fiction, so it’s no surprise that I absolutely adored Chan Ho-Kei’s novel/collection of interconnected short stories The Borrowed. Told in reverse chronological order, The Borrowed follows the career of Kwan Chun-dok, a legendary Hong Kong detective, and his protege, Inspector Lok. The stories all take place at significant moments in Hong Kong history (e.g. the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the Handover in 1997), and I wish I knew more about Hong Kong history so I would have appreciated the links more.
The stories are all also told in classic detective fiction style, with Kwan Chun-dok displaying brain power similar to Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. Similar to classic detective fiction, the puzzles are all brain teasers, with a satisfying big reveal at the end as the detective unmasks the culprit. The stories are all compelling and character-driven, and I love the satisfying resolution of each. The first story in particular ended with a reveal straight out of a Conan Doyle novel, mischievous and smart.
The stories are all also interconnected, with a character from one story reappearing in a later story, which would have taken place at an earlier time. I think I may have missed some of the reappearances (for example, a reappearance in the final story — or earliest, chronologically — seems to have major significance, but I had to flip back to find out what it could be), but I still enjoyed the stories overall.
I’m also a sucker for mentor/protege relationships, and I love how Kwan Chun-dok saw potential in Inspector Lok from early on, and developed him to take on his mantle. I also like how we saw Kwan Chun-dok as a young man, coming into his own abilities and making mistakes that would help shape the genius he’d become.
I admit I thought the reverse chronological approach to be nothing more than a clever gimmick at first, and I wasn’t much of a fan, but I found that I enjoyed getting to know Kwan Chun-dok in reverse order. We are so often used to the story of a brilliant young man who develops his own talents and becomes legendary that it’s an interesting effect to meet him first at the apex of his brilliance and then slowly get to know the man behind the legend, as he is revealed to be increasingly more vulnerable.
Hong Kong as well becomes a vivid character in its own right in these stories, as Chan Ho-Kei’s writing brings the city to life on the page. This book makes me want to read more Hong Kong police procedurals, or possibly even more of Inpector Lok’s adventures beyond his career with Kwan Chun-dok.
The Borrowed is such a fun book to read, and I highly recommend it for any fan of classic mysteries and police procedurals.
Thank you to House of Anansi for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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