3 out of 4 stars
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Butterfly Hill by Brendan le Grange is a crime novel set in Hong Kong. Katsu Shimizu and his wife get away with embezzling more than ten million dollars from the bank Katsu works for, a heist dubbed "The Great Haul of China" by the South China Morning Post. Katsu's son Hiko believes his mother ripped his father off on the deal, pocketing the lion's share, and that ten million was just a small portion of the real loot. Hiko decides to carry out another bank robbery, this time the "old-fashioned way". He plans to steal gold and diamonds from the bank's safe deposit boxes to avoid the hassles of depositing stolen cash. The Butterfly Stone, a diamond of "unprecedented size and colour" in the Chairman's vault, is Hiko's target. Meanwhile, Belgian detective Matthys Rossouw and his partner Elaine are trying to track down the elusive Hiko. And Captain Zhong Zhang of the People's Liberation Army has other ideas altogether...
Le Grange's writing is crisp and punchy; for example: "Good thing karma was bullshit." He tells the story neatly without unnecessary detail, advancing the plot at a decent pace. His descriptions of the natural environment are solid, really setting the scene for the reader. Hiko's mountain-climb and traversing of a bat-infested cave are realistic and believable. The characters are also well-defined. Two examples of this are Captain Zhang's relentless ruthlessness and Matthys Rossouw's habit of running off into irrelevant detail about his life while conversing about important police work.
The clever plot features some ingenious planning and execution by Hiko. Le Grange only reveals each step in the plan after Hiko carries it out, and much of the story has a "heist" or "caper" feel, which I enjoyed. It features a few decent twists, including a strong twist ending. There are also some clever pop culture references, such as when Hiko is climbing a cave wall being bombarded by bats: "He was swatting bats like they were midges by the sixth level, and bleeding from their strikes by the seventh. Hitchcock would have loved this." This is a clever reference to Alfred Hitchcock's movie The Birds.
As for negatives, there are around two dozen minor typographical errors throughout the book. The author also sometimes uses a comma in places that need a semicolon. A comma is for a slight pause, nothing more; a semicolon is for a new clause within a sentence. However, these minor issues did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.
Overall, I rate Butterfly Hill 3 out of 4 stars, with one star subtracted for the errors. It is a solid crime caper with well-defined characters, a decent plot, readable prose, and some good description. With a final edit, I believe it would be worth 4 stars. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys well-plotted, character-driven crime thrillers, especially those who like learning about other cultures. It does have strong violence, but nothing too graphic, and has no sex scenes.
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