The Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton
Ava Lee is an accountant. She lives in Toronto, attended a certain university, and studies kung fu at a high level. That said, her life sounds pretty ordinary; but she’s actually a forensic accountant. Under the direction of her Hong Kong-based partner, Uncle, she travels around the world finding and recovering money that was lost or stolen from their clients, for a hefty fee, of course.
This time, Uncle brings her to a Filpino/Chinese brewing magnate, whose brother has lost millions on what certainly seems to be a crooked real estate deal in British Columbia, and now refuses to explain himself. When Ava tracks down the alleged swindler, though, he claims to have been working for the brother all along, and has a contract (a very well-written contract, at that) to prove it. Ava soon learns that the brother lost the money playing high-stakes online poker; he was cheated and he wasn’t the only one.
This leads Ava to Las Vegas, and the titular Disciple, a legendary poker player who was involved in the scam. And it was in Vega$ that the story gave me the first major problem.
I mean, Ava’s a hell of a character. She’s a Queer Canadian Woman of Colour (did I mention she’s a lesbian? Cause she’s a lesbian. It doesn’t play much of a role in this particular story, but it is mentioned), she lives in the right city (and that’s not just a background thing, either, it affects her behaviour: when she’s in Vegas’ Chinatown she has to remind herself at one point to stop speaking Cantonese because the local population doesn’t), and she can take care of herself in a fight (even if she doesn’t win, she can come back from a beating without complaining, an important skill in a detective) but there’s a point in the story where, after having been beaten up by a pair of thugs she has Uncle send her a pair of thugs of their own, then catches the thugs and the Disciple and his partner in an isolated location, stuffs the thugs and partners in cages with hungry dobermans (they’re the Disciple’s dogs; they aren’t that hungry yet but the point is to contain and terrorize the men) and the tortures the Disciple until he agrees to sign a confession. And by tortures I mean, has one of her thugs cut his thumb off with a meat cleaver and then cauterize the stump on an active stove element, all without anaesthesia. And she uses the sight of that to intimidate the partner. She does take care that he doesn’t bleed to death, but she also makes it clear that she is willing to have her goon go on cutting off digits.
Now, let’s disregard the whole question of whether torture works for determining the truth (though if someone cut off my thumb and kept threatened to keep going unless I signed a confession to something I didn’t do, I’d certainly sign); it’s more that torture is not something I want to see my heroes using (it’s not really something I want to see my villains doing, either, but at least they have an excuse). So I’m sort of conflicted on the whole issue of recommending this, never mind the question of whether I’ll be buying more myself. Right now: not recommended.