The Disciple of Las Vegas, book 2 in Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee series, is even better than the first. The mystery is tighter, with more emphasis on the actual mystery than on the exotic locales and cuisines. As a mystery lover and a woman, I also appreciated the additional focus on the mystery and the lessened attention on Ava’s beauty and effect on various men. There’s still the hot guy who is disappointed by Ava’s homosexuality, which if I remember correctly, also happened in the first book, and characters still comment on Ava’s looks, but there seems to be less emphasis on how people underestimate Ava because of her looks. This leaves more time to develop the mystery, which I actually found more exciting and easier to follow than the first book.
Chinese-Filipino billionaire Tommy Ordonez hires Uncle and Ava to track down $65 million stolen from his company in Canada, which his younger brother Philip manages. Ava’s investigation leads her to discover that the stolen money is linked to a gambling scam involving poker legend David “the Disciple” Douglas and his partner Jeremy Ashton. Hamilton again manages to make a financial crime as exciting as murder, and I loved reading the scenes where Ava uses bak mei to subdue bad guys.
As a Filipino, I am thrilled to have the Philippines featured in a Canadian book, especially a mystery, since the only Western fiction books I’ve seen that featured the Philippines and Filipinos are literary fiction, usually written by authors with Filipino roots themselves. (I’d love to be proven wrong, by the way. If you know of any well-written fiction books written by a Westerner, with a Filipino character or the Philippines as a setting, where the character/setting is as mainstream as a Chinese/Japanese character/setting, please let me know.) So I loved having aspects of the Philippines shown in Hamilton’s book, like the express line at the airport and balikbayan boxes (minor correction, Mr. Hamilton: balikbayans are Filipinos returning home; the boxes are called balikbayan boxes). I would’ve loved a scene with mouthwatering Filipino cuisine as well, but that’s just me.
One thing I would have liked changed, and this, again, is as a Filipino: When Ava asks Uncle about the long lines of Filipinas at the airport lugging balikbayan boxes, Uncle says they are all domestic workers flying home. Ava then remembers her own Filipina nanny and speculates that these domestic workers sending foreign currency home probably make up a large portion of the country’s GNP. Somewhat accurate — there are certainly lots of Filipinos working abroad and sending money home, and a lot are nannies and domestic workers.
However, there are also lots of Filipinos working abroad in all sorts of professions: nurses, doctors, English teachers, and businesspeople. Perhaps I’m sensitive because of an incident a few years ago where a dictionary in Europe defined a Filipino as a domestic worker. Perhaps I’ve just noticed how in books (not just this one), if a character is labelled Filipino, he/she is usually household help or part of the maintenance staff. Perhaps it’s just time writers go beyond the stereotype and show Filipinos in other lines of work, eh?
Overall, The Disciple of Las Vegas is a fast-paced, exciting financial mystery. There are some bloody scenes, so if that’s not your thing, be warned. I also thought the Jackie Leung subplot was unnecessary, given how action-packed the main mystery was already. Still, overall, a good book, better than the first.