Book review: The Devil You Know - Hong Kong-set thriller cranks up the tension

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 January, 2015, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 January, 2015, 11:47pm

The Devil You Know
by Peter Gregoire
Proverse Hong Kong

Many self-published books are indulgent efforts that perhaps only the writer's mother would enjoy reading. But not this one.

Hong Kong resident Peter Gregoire's self-deprecating Eurasian hero, lawyer Scott Lee, made his debut in the well-received 2012 conspiracy thriller Article 109 - set both here and on the mainland - as he investigated a friend's death.

Now he's back in another Hong Kong novel, The Devil You Know, on the trail of a missing business executive. The timing of Gregoire's plot will strike a chord - reminding readers of last year's umbrella movement protests calling for democracy - with the action set in 2017 and the election for Hong Kong's next chief executive looming.

Little else has changed for frustrated Hongkongers two years down the road … "forced to be content paying an enormous portion of your salary to live in a cramped apartment, because tycoon land developers limit the supply to keep prices high".

Lee goes to work under cover as a lawyer for media tycoon Rufus Lam to find his trusted business lieutenant, Terence Auyeung, who vanished the month before from the finance department of one of his business investments, a company called Gadgetech.

A little digging soon uncovers a far more complex mystery than Lee expected - one with far-reaching, menacing repercussions. Soon his life, and that of investigative journalist Amy Tang - who has teamed up with him to unravel the truth - are in danger.

Gregoire, who once worked for Hong Kong's regulatory authority and now heads the legal department of a global insurance group here, puts his work as a lawyer to good use. His briskly paced, intricately plotted narrative layers legal challenges for his indefatigable hero - including a pro bono case helping a public housing estate resident stop her pet beagle from being evicted - with a series of threatening problems, including evading a group of ruthless killers out to stop Lee.

Gregoire has a crisp, pleasingly direct writing style and, in Lee and Tang, two convincing and - most winningly - likeable protagonists. His punchy pacing, credible action scenes and tongue-in-cheek dialogue are nicely judged as he cranks up the tension while leading Lee - and the reader - on a labyrinthine trail around Hong Kong.

There are some minor grumbles over a few slightly incredible plot strands - and a resolution that seems forced and might not please some readers. Still, these complaints do not spoil the enjoyment of a book that deserves its place on bookshop shelves.