White Ghosts by Will Rhode Simon and Schuster $140 Set in the days leading up to the handover, this thriller begins and ends at the same dramatic point: the death of the novel's beautiful heroine, Candy. The novel is in perpetual flashback to different points in the main character's life, from his school days to his new life in Hong Kong, as it establishes how and why Candy died. Michael, a bored student in London, completing a master's degree in politics, observes the humps of the 'dragon's back archipelago' as he jets into the colony. Will Rhode sets up the claustrophobic feeling of his second novel almost immediately. This is a crowded, hot, 'terribly foreign' island to the novel's protagonist. The fewer words spoken with the local Chinese, the easier it is. Michael has flown to Hong Kong after a cry for help from an old boarding-school chum, Sean, whom he used to fellate as an 11-year-old. Their friendship is clearly close to a gay relationship. But Sean is far from needing help when Michael arrives. He finds his brash but listless old friend masturbating to a porn video. Add to that drugs, murder and sex (including rape, buggery, cross-dressing, butt licking and prostitutes in Macau), and you have the main ingredients. The Hong Kong of White Ghosts is a playground for the bored, privately educated sons of rich Britons. Stockbroker Sean lives the high life, with only an increasing paranoia about losing his English-Chinese girlfriend, Candy. In this expat community, the loose collective of well-off acquaintances mostly know each other by first names only. People start dying when the mysterious Bob appears. But who's knocking off Sean's buddies, and why? Michael, now working at a Hong Kong newspaper, has suspicions, and there's a dark secret harking back to school days. Think Iain Banks' Complicity. The characters are narcissistic, crude and unlikable, brought up on cocaine, casual sex and pornography. When not taking ecstasy and raving on boats in the harbour, they're winding down watching Scarface and Jaws. This is very much a lads' novel. Fans of Loaded and FHM will probably love it. Chapters begin with a single-word paragraph, such as 'F***!' or 'Weeeeyyyyyy!' or the more prosaic, 'Sean was having a wank'. The style is one of little humiliations, insensitive, sometimes arrogant observations strung together and punctuated with curses. Overall, the novel is free-flowing and readable. The action never abates for long and there's just enough visual description to invoke a sense of the crowdedness and beauty of Hong Kong. It's far from a celebration of the exotic, however. Rhode presents the decadence of young expats as commonplace, and the strangeness of the island as holding unseen perils for them. Likewise, the Chinese characters are treated as cannon fodder for Sean and Michael. Even Candy. When she's murdered their dismissive responses speak volumes for her perceived worth as a woman and someone 'not of their group'. Which pretty much sums up the market the novel is directed at.