Jan Pearson, Blue Dragon Spring (Proverse, 2020)
Jan Pearson is Hong Kong’s top thriller writer in English. Her thrillers Red Bird Summer (2014), Tiger Autumn (2015) and Black Tortoise Winter (2016) are classics of the genre. Heart-racing puzzleboxes bursting with Triads, high financiers and fraught Anglo-Sino political relations.
As Peter Benson, the novels’ “man in HK”, opens the novel by telling us; phoenix, tiger and tortoise represent three of the Four Directions in Chinese mythology. We’ve also had summer, autumn and winter.
Now, four years after the last book, spring is coming and “there will be a time for dragons”.
This time, the action moves between HK and GB (Great Britain). A series of murders is taking place across the country in restaurants named the Blue Dragon. GCHQ don’t waste time in connecting them to Hong Kong Triads. Fingers are being removed from bodies, after all.
And ending up in boxes, sent to Yip Yee Koon. Koon, a financial mogul well-known already to Pearson’s readers, is shown here as undaunted and unbowed as always. His nephew stepped down from leading the Kowloon Walled City Triad two years earlier and this seems like a transparent hussle originating from his predecessor.
Yip is the kind of man whose in-tray could be stacked high with severed fingers and he wouldn’t bat an eye.
His daughter, Annie, meanwhile, is another matter.
From Annie’s first appearance, demanding to be picked up by Yip’s Rolls Royce Silver Shadow (“You know how I love the Rolls daddy”), she’s a captivating character. The spoiled brat whose very stereotypicality makes her compelling. Her particular brand of pouting innocence, we are sure, can’t last long in the brutal world of the HK underground.
Set in the 1990s, the novel is at its best when depicting the fluid movement of the HK elite and British intelligence between the UK mainland and its leased territory.
It paints a picture of a bygone era, but one not so bygone; still, in fact, alive in many resident’s memories. Its freedoms after all were, in the main, still enjoyed until only a few months ago. Their disappearance coincided with our own lockdown, but it will take more than a vaccine to restore them.
As the novel ends by saying: “All seems well enough in Hong Kong, but for how long?”
This places the novel in a curious position. Both current and nostalgic. Hard-boiled and cynical, and yet still glamorous and dazzling. It’s a fitting finale to the Four Directions, and a hell of a page-turner.