Today I am on the tour for Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei. I am delighted to have a sneaky excerpt for you to enjoy.
Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei
From the author of the acclaimed novel The Borrowed, a very timely and propulsively plotted tale of cyberbullying and revenge, about a woman on the hunt for the truth about her sister’s death.
Chan Ho-Kei’s The Borrowed was one of the most acclaimed international crime novels of recent years, a vivid and compelling tale of power, corruption, and the law spanning five decades of the history of Hong Kong. Now he delivers Second Sister, an up-to-the-minute tale of a Darwinian digital city where everyone from tech entrepreneurs to teenagers is struggling for the top.
A schoolgirl – Siu-Man – has committed suicide, leaping from her twenty-second floor window to the pavement below. Siu-Man is an orphan and the librarian older sister who’s been raising her refuses to believe there was no foul play – nothing seemed amiss. She contacts a man known only as N. – a hacker, and an expert in cybersecurity and manipulating human behavior. But can Nga-Yee interest him sufficiently to take her case, and can she afford it if he says yes?
What follows is a cat and mouse game through the city of Hong Kong and its digital underground, especially an online gossip platform, where someone has been slandering Siu-Man. The novel is also populated by a man harassing girls on mass transit; high school kids, with their competing agendas and social dramas; a Hong Kong digital company courting an American venture capitalist; and the Triads, market women and noodle shop proprietors who frequent N.’s neighborhood of Sai Wan. In the end it all comes together to tell us who caused Siu-Man’s death and why, and to ask, in a world where online and offline dialogue has increasingly forgotten about the real people on the other end, what the proper punishment is.
When Nga-Yee left her flat at eight that morning, she had no
idea her whole life would change that day.
After the nightmare of the last year, she was sure better times
were ahead if they just gritted their teeth and clung on. She firmly
believed that destiny was fair, and if something bad happened,
something good must naturally follow. Unfortunately, the powers
that be love playing cruel jokes on us.
A little after six that evening, Nga-Yee dragged her exhausted
body homeward. As she walked from the shuttle bus stop, her
mind busily calculated whether there was enough food in the
fridge to make dinner for two. In just seven or eight years, prices
had risen alarmingly while wages stayed the same. Nga-Yee could
remember a pound of pork costing twenty-odd dollars, but now
that barely got you half a pound.
There was probably a few ounces of pork and some spinach
in the fridge, enough for a stir-fry with ginger. A dish of steamed
eggs on the side would complete a simple, nutritious dinner. Her
sister Siu-Man, who was eight years younger, loved steamed
eggs, and Nga-Yee often served this soft, silky dish when the
cupboard was almost bare—a fine meal with chopped scallions
and a dash of soy sauce. Most important, it was cheap. Back
when their finances were even tighter, eggs got them through
many a difficult moment.
Although there was enough for that night, Nga-Yee wondered
if she should try her luck at the market anyway. She didn’t like
leaving the fridge completely bare—her upbringing had left her
wanting a backup plan at all times. Besides, quite a few vendors
dropped their prices just before closing, and she might pick up
some bargains for the next day.
A police car sped past, the siren piercing Nga-Yee’s thoughts
of discounted groceries. Only now did she notice the crowd at
the foot of her building, Wun Wah House.
What on earth could have happened? Nga-Yee continued
walking at the same pace. She wasn’t the sort of person who liked
joining in the excitement, which was why many of her secondary
school classmates had labeled her a loner, an introvert, a nerd.
Not that this bothered her. Everyone has the right to choose
how to live their lives. Trying to fit in with other people’s ideas
is pure foolishness.
“Nga-Yee! Nga-Yee!” A plump, curly-haired, fiftyish woman
waved frantically from among the dozen or so onlookers: Auntie
Chan, their neighbor on the twenty-second floor. They knew each
other to say hello, but that was about it.
Auntie Chan sprinted the short distance toward Nga-Yee,
grabbed her by the arm, and dragged her toward the building.
Nga-Yee couldn’t make out a word she was saying, apart from
her own name—sheer terror made her voice sound like a foreign
language. Nga-Yee finally began to understand when she picked
out the word “sister.”
In the light of the setting sun, Nga-Yee walked through the
crowd and was finally able to make out the horrifying sight.
People were huddled around a patch of concrete about a
dozen yards from the main entrance. A teenage girl in a white
school uniform lay there, tangled hair obscuring her face, dark
red liquid puddling around her head.
Nga-Yee’s first thought was, Isn’t that someone from SiuMan’s school?
Two seconds later she realized the still figure on the ground
Her little sister was sprawled on the cold concrete.
All the family she had in the world.
Instantly, everything around her turned upside down.
Was this a nightmare? If only she were dreaming. Nga-Yee
looked at the faces around her. She recognized them as her neighbors, but they felt like strangers.
“Nga-Yee! Nga-Yee!” Auntie Chan clutched at her arm, shaking her violently.
“Siu . . . Siu-Man?” Even saying her name out loud, Nga-Yee
couldn’t connect the object on the ground with her little sister.
Siu-Man ought to be at home right now, waiting for me to
“Move back, please.” A police officer in a neatly pressed uniform pushed through while two paramedics knelt by Siu-Man
with a stretcher.
The older paramedic held his hand beneath her nose, pressed a
couple of fingers to her left wrist, then lifted an eyelid and shone
a penlight at her pupil. This took just a few seconds, but Nga-Yee
experienced every one of these actions as a series of freeze-frames.
She could no longer feel the passing of time.
Her subconscious was trying to save her from what would
The paramedic straightened and shook his head.
“Please step back, clear the way please,” said the policeman.
The paramedics walked away from Siu-Man, looking somber.
“Siu . . . Siu-Man? Siu-Man! Siu-Man!” Nga-Yee pushed Auntie Chan aside and dashed over.
“Miss!” A tall police officer moved quickly to grab her by