Hong Kong Whodunnits - One City, Twelve Murders

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong Whodunnits - One City, Twelve Murders

edited by Diana McPartlin

Hong Kong Writers' Circle, HK$99

Surprise and satisfaction should be the goal of the writer of whodunnits, a game governed by standards of fair play in which the reader is presented with a set of obscure or misleading clues that lead logically to the identity of a murderer.

In the strictest sense, notwithstanding claims made in the introduction to have adhered to the rules of misdirection and false leads so the reader can try to solve the crime before the end, 'murder mysteries' might have been more honest advertising for this mixed bag of 12 relatively short stories that take Hong Kong at various times in the past and future as their setting.

All the stories are by capable writers who offer distinctive views of the city, sleuthing through its alleys and residential blocks, poking through its secret worlds, turning over its traditions and ambitions.

Peter Gregoire makes a strong opening with SmogTown, which telescopes readers into a future Hong Kong lethally polluted both environmentally and spiritually, where death is just a breath away. But at a scant 15 pages, there's not enough buildup to make the ending pay off, nor do readers have much of a chance to work it out for themselves, which makes this a camp-fire story with potential.

There's a fine balance in whodunnits between giving clues and giving the game away. But Lawrence Gray's Going Gweilo doesn't seem to want the reader to play at all and the reaction at the end is, 'Huh?'

Diana McPartlin's The Siddartha Code, although well written, gives the game away at the get-go. It's up to readers to create their own suspense for a twist, any twist, to veer the story away from an ending flagged like a Signal 8. Told around a dinner table, this one would have listeners groaning at the punchline in unison and wrestling for the brandy decanter. Not a patch on Auditing and Audacity in last year's Sweat and the City collection from the Writers' Circle.

Nevertheless, some of the stories display real flair and intent.

Cover Story by Jane Wallace does well to capture the character of a disturbing woman with some serious unresolved issues as she sets about unravelling the decade-old death of a friend. Two Birds, One Stone by John Biggs is cleverly plausible and captures well the arrogance of money, but is ordering the excellent Veuve Clicquot 85 instead of the exceptional 1990 a mistake or a clue?

As Easy as ABC by Mio Debnam is nicely paced and well observed, and using a meat cleaver on wannabe writers isn't a bad idea. However, the best is saved until last: A Taste of Madness by Ian Greenfield is marvellous for its simplicity and structure, and is thoroughly convincing, unlike his other story in this collection, The Challenge, for which the introduction promises a trail of clues, but which is a few stones short of a path.

Overall, Hong Kong Whodunnits is an ambitious collection that aims high, but ultimately too many arrows fall short of the target for it to be deemed a successful outing for the Hong Kong Writers' Circle. Nonetheless, nice try.


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