"Missing girls, a brutal killer, a city in terror" are the words on the cover of THE TROPHY TAKER and I suppose they are a fair description, although the city (Hong Kong) does not seem too terrified. The prose is rushed as chapters flash by: detective Johnny Mann and his two colleagues investigate the disappearance of a series of women dating back more than 20 years. Bodies are found in various states of decomposition, having been horribly mutilated in various ways. Johnny is convinced that the criminals are involved in the thriving "hostess" scene, so hangs around various bars and clubs in the hope of catching those responsible.
In the process he meets Georgina, a young woman who has recently arrived from Devon, England. Georgina's mother, a widow, has recently died and the girl has decided to find her only family, two cousins who live in Hong Kong. Lucy, the elder of the two, is severely in debt to the triads, owning to an unconvincingly described night spent gambling. Ka Lei, the younger girl, rapidly becomes Georgina's soul mate. Soon, however, Lucy is put under intolerable pressure to betray not only her naive cousin but also her sweet younger sister, in order to repay her crippling debt.
THE TROPHY TAKER is an easy read, though it weighs in at 500 pages. The author is billed as "a female James Patterson", which is a fair warning of what to expect from the book's contents. The action is fast but fairly superficial, for example all the characters are in some way involved in the nasty trafficking events that Johnny, an idealised character with total integrity and unfailingly chivalrous, gradually uncovers. What suspense there is largely hangs on his ability to work out who is behind the disappearances (obvious) and then whether he will track down the victims in time.
Although the descriptions of life in Hong Kong ring true, and the reader cannot help but sympathise with the desperate situation of many of the women described, the book is too formulaic. Nobody seems to be surprised when women regularly go missing, it generally being assumed that they have had enough and have gone on the "backpacker trail" – though of course the reader is left in no doubt of what has really happened to these poor souls. It seems to be assumed that any female living in Hong Kong is an isolated, potential victim, too passive or thoughtless to take any precautions to protect themselves.
The book is something of a pastiche of various true-life crimes and similar books, told with broad brush strokes and lack of subtlety. For me, the repeated scenarios of tortured and abused women, even though they stop short at gory descriptions, cumulatively leave too nasty an impression, although the author seems to genuinely sympathise with her characters' plights.