The Borrowed by Chan Ho-kei

Book Review by Amy Ng


The Borrowed has all the action of a detective tale like Sherlock Holmes, but is set in Hong Kong.  The novel keeps the suspense high while maintaining the nuances and customs of the setting.


Freshly translated into English in January 2017, Chan Ho-Kei’s fast-paced crime tale will keep readers on the edge the whole way through.  The Borrowed follows senior inspector Kwan Chun-dok, nicknamed “The Eye of Heaven,” from learning to master his detective skills in the 1960s, to the changes he experiences in the Hong Kong police force in 2013.


The novel begins in the modern day, with a wealthy business man found murdered in his own home.  Inspector ‘Sonny’ Lok—legendary Kwan Chun-dok’s disciple—leads the investigation.  We find that the famous inspector is on his deathbed.  Even in his poor condition, “The Eye of Heaven” lives up to his name.


The Borrower is split up into several stories presented in reverse chronologic order.  Similar to cracking a criminal case, the reader learns more and more about the mysterious inspector by discovering one snippet of detail at a time.  Kwan Chun-dok faces murders, kidnapping, and botched special operations.  The quick witted inspector, who seems to always be a few steps ahead of everyone, takes the reader through five decades of Hong Kong’s history.


The historical and cultural nuance in this novel gives a unique twist on a classic detective story.  Chan Ho-kei’s attention to detail not only brings grisly crimes to life, but also emphasizes the subtle interactions of each character.


The Borrowed carefully constructs each scene in the novel, and nothing is ever as it seems.  Inspector Kwan Chun-dok demonstrates why he is nicknamed “The Eye of Heaven,” seeing all things that may remain hidden to the untrained eye.  No details are spared as the story moves from one case to the next, their twists and turns keeping the reader on edge.  The smallest detail might be the next big lead.