I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei. My thanks to Bei Guo at Midas PR for inviting me, on behalf of Head of Zeus, to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
Upon discovering her fifteen-year-old sister’s body sprawled in a pool of blood at the bottom of their apartment block, Nga-Yee vows to serve justice to the internet troll she blames for her sister’s suicide.
Hiring an anti-establishment, maverick tech-savvy detective, Nga-Yee discovers the dark side of social media, the smokescreen of online privacy and the inner workings of the hacker’s mind.
Determined to find out the truth about why her sister Siu-Man killed herself, Nga-Yee cannot rest until she finds out whose inflammatory social media post went viral and pushed her sister to her death. Along the way, Nga-Yee makes unsavoury discoveries about her sister’s life and the dark underbelly of the digital world.
Perfect for fans of hacker thrillers such as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Second Sister is part detective novel, part revenge thriller. It explores timely themes of sexual harassment, online trolling, victim blaming, fake news and data privacy scandals, vividly capturing the zeitgeist of Hong Kong and the world today.
I seem to be reading more translated fiction just recently, and I am really enjoying it, but I think this is my first piece of fiction translated from Chinese. It took me about two chapters to get in to the rhythm of the text but, after that, the book just flew by and flowed very easily. I have to say the translation was excellent and easy to read whilst still maintaining the tone and pace and feel of the original text.
As for the story itself, this book is quite a ride I have to say. It starts very dramatically with the suicide of a young school girl in Hong Kong, and the fallout from this act sets in motion a complex chain reaction of events when her bereft sister hires a secretive hacker to help her find who was responsible for, she believes, goading her sister to kill herself. But is the equation of cause and effect ever that straight forward?
There were lots of things I really enjoyed about this book. Firstly, it was a step into a slightly different genre than my usual tastes. I don’t read a lot of tech crime novels, but I was fascinated by the processes described in the book and the labyrinthine investigations that are needed to uncover the tangled world that lays behind the face of the internet we see day to day. Online trolling and bullying is becoming more prevalent, and the impact it has on the victims’ mental health is something that has sadly been in the news far too much recently. In this sense, the book is relevant and quite terrifyingly eye-opening, especially to the parents of teenagers who are far more tech-savvy than us and with tendencies to be secretive.
I loved the character of N, the enigmatic and shady hacker who is brought in to investigate the ‘crime’. He is quirky and out of step and a lot of what he does is shocking. His view of life gives an interesting twist on morality and the way the way people can delude themselves that they have justice on their side and are doing the ‘right’ thing, when actually they are doing the selfish thing or the cowardly thing. It might make the reader take another, more honest, look about what actually drives our behaviour from time to time. I think current events are showing us what people are really made of when faced with a crisis and this book shines a light on a small aspect of that.
Exploring the world of modern Hong Kong through the eyes of different sectors of its residents was also interesting. Since the UK handed control of Hong Kong back to China in the nineties, we hear less and less about it, unless there is turbulence which hits the news. It is such a different and distant place from what I have experienced, I love being given a little window into another world, even if it is a bit of a dingy corner of it!
The book wasn’t perfect. It’s quite a chunky read, and you do have to concentrate quite hard to follow the twisty plot at times. It moves very quickly so, if you skim, it is easy to miss some of the important clues as to what it coming. There was a chunk at the end which felt a little bit like a spewing of conclusions, rather than a reveal. However, none of that detracted greatly from my pleasure in the book. There was exploration of a lot of important issues currently in the news, sexual exploitation and victim-blaming, along with cyber crime and the social media bullying previously described. There were enough WTF moments to pay off the time invested in reading, and I did feel like it was intelligent and questioning to a degree that really made me engage my brain in following the plot, the reasoning and the moral questions raised. It’s a book that pays off in a myriad of ways.
All in all, a rewarding and complex novel that challenged and entertained me, gave me a glimpse of a different world and took me some steps out of my comfort zone. I highly recommend it.
Second Sight is out now in hardback and ebook and you can buy a copy here.
Please make sure you check out the rest of the blogs on the tour as detailed below:
About the Author
Chan was born and raised in Hong Kong. He has worked as a software engineer, game designer, manga editor, and lecturer. Chan wrote made his debut as a writer in 2008 at the age of thirty-three, with the short story The Case of Jack and the Beanstalk which was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of Taiwan Award. Chan re-entered the following year and won the award for his short story The Locked Room of Bluebeard.
Chan reached the first milestone of his writing career in 2011 with his novel, The Man who Sold the World which won the biggest mystery award in the Chinese speaking world, the Soji Shimada Award. The book has been published in Taiwan, Japan, Italy, Thailand and Korea.
In 2014, Chan’s crime thriller The Borrowed was published in Taiwan. It has sold rights in thirteen countries, and the book will be adapted into a film by acclaimed Chinese art film director Wong Kar-Wai.
Second Sister has acquired a six-figure film deal with Linmon Pictures in China. The book will be published in the US in 2020 and rights have been sold to China, Korea and Japan.
About the Translator
Jeremy Tiang’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, Esquire and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. He has written four plays and translated more than ten books from the Chinese. Tiang lives in New York.