Ava Lee is a new face in the mystery/thriller genre, a forensic accountant in a lucrative partnership with a Hong Kong based "Uncle" who smoothes away behind-the-scenes problems as Ava travels the globe recovering money for clients, large sums that garner an impressive percentage for Ava and Uncle. In their newest case, Ava flies from Vancouver to Manila to meet the new clients: Triad-associated businessman Tommy Ordonez and Uncle's friend, Chang Wang. The clients would like Ava to recover fifty million dollars stolen from their company.
The most obvious culprit in the theft appears to be a family member in Toronto—Ordonez's brother in the family business, Philip Chew. But Ava never assumes the obvious, and it is too easy to place the blame on the hapless Philip Chew. Digging into Philip Chew's most recent activities, it is clear that this man on the brink of a nervous breakdown is only the tip of the iceberg, a careless gambler overwhelmed by his impulses. A scheme to defraud to the tune of fifty million dollars begins with a bogus land purchase, only the first in a number of smokescreens between Ava and the money.
Unfortunately for her adversaries, this is an area where the brilliant forensic accountant thrives, conscientiously examining layers of financial obfuscation to identify the players at each level of a master swindle. Given her calm, polite approach, most subjects Ava confronts respond well to reason, negotiating reasonable solutions, a major skill set for a petite Chinese woman equally adept at sophisticated martial arts. Ava only resorts to physical persuasion when there is no other choice, but once necessary, her commitment is complete.
In a relatively bloodless thriller (save a few memorable situations), Ava's quick wits serve her well. Her approach to each individual in the chain leading to the culprit is not only rewarding but garners great good will thanks to her professional, pragmatic attitude. As she travels from Toronto to Hong Kong, London, San Francisco and Las Vegas, Ava keeps her word to those she encounters along the way, only running into real difficulty in her final destination. In Las Vegas, the genius behind the theft is too arrogant to see the wisdom of Ava's suggestions. Forced to flex her muscles, the goal is always the same: recovery of the stolen funds with as little difficulty as possible.
The style of the novel is low-key. Each phase of Ava's investigation offer a tour of a new city with her observations about cuisine, especially Chinese, accommodations and areas of interest—exactly what you would expect from an accountant, albeit one with an extensive background in the art of self-defense. Ava handles business like she does her life: simple, to the point, compartmentalized and mannered. The few moments of physical threat are quick and efficient, without a hint of revenge or passion. What might appear a bloodless criminal thriller is not. The implied power is there, but reason prevails thanks to Ava's methods, even when Ordonez threatens mayhem. Smooth and precise, Ava Lee is a shark moving through dark water, prepared to strike but just as content to continue unobstructed. A beautiful, powerful shark.