The Next Chapter

How Ian Hamilton's 10-book series was born

Ian Hamilton is the author of the popular crime series featuring a Chinese-Canadian lesbian accountant.
Hamilton relied heavily on his eclectic career experience to write his hit crime and mystery series. (House of Anansi / Iden Ford)

Ava Lee is the centre of the bestselling mystery series created by author Ian Hamilton. The strong crime-solving, debt-chasing protagonist has gained a devoted fan base since she was first introduced in 2011 in The Water Rat of Wanchai. Ava Lee has fought crime all over the world, taking on all forms of corruption involving notorious gangs and mafia members. In the latest installment, The Couturier of MilanAva investigates the covert inner workings of the high fashion industry.

Try everything and anything

I've always been good with numbers. I was in business for many, many years and you have to have some facility with numbers. That forms part of the background of the books obviously. I'm able to incorporate that plus the fact I spent over 20 years travelling all over the world. I incorporate that into the books as well. I was in the seafood business. I was in the consulting business. I've had a career that's sort of gone from journalist to bureaucrat to diplomat to business. As my wife says to me, "One of your great strengths is that you're not afraid to try anything." Of course, my greatest weakness is I'm not afraid to try anything.

Ava Lee's origin story

I sat down and I started to write with nothing. I had no plot. I had no outline. I had nothing. The name Ava Lee came to me from absolutely nowhere. I had one line in my head and I thought that line sort of set a tone that I really liked. "She didn't know where the call originated, but was sure it was somewhere in Asia. The caller was too desperate to care or ignorant about the time," because the call came in the middle of the night for her. So I started to write and I was writing, channeling all this stuff. I was using all my years of travelling as an experience. I was using my business background. I was using the love and respect I have for Chinese culture. I've spent my entire life surrounded by nothing but strong women — my mother, my wife, my daughters — and I felt very comfortable writing about women. So away I went.

Ian Hamilton's comments have been edited and condensed.