The Borrowed - Chan Ho-Kei


This book is a short story collection involving a detective named Kwan who solves crimes in Hong Kong. The stories are told in reverse chronological order spanning five decades.

I enjoyed reading this book, and it wouldn’t have been something I would have usually read. The book’s story locations got me curious about Hong Kong's geography- something I was unfamiliar with.

‘We have a saying in Hong Kong – “Money is just a thing outside your body.” Hongkongers might be materialistic, but on this point, we’re pretty certain what’s really important.’

Three Things I Liked

The Classic Detective

The detailed analysis and breakdown of the crime-solving is akin to those of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Matlock, and Jessica Fletcher.


The misdirections in each plot add the extra element of being genuinely surprised at the end of each story.

  • the fake brain machine
  • the fake death
  • the fake escape
  • the fake hero
  • the fake kidnapping
  • the “fake” narrator

The Final Twist

‘Huh?’ Cop 7 was staring at me. ‘Who?’ ‘The man who killed those two little kids,’ I stared straight into his eyes, ‘was you.’ ‘Me? What are you talking about?’

The twist at the end of the book is when it is revealed who the narrator of the final story is. It does get you to revisit the book's first chapter to confirm a few facts. However, I wish the author did more with this character. He could have turned the character into a supervillain - a Moriarty.

Favorite Story

During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong had used Type 67s to give the American troops a headache. In all of Kwan’s years in the force, this was his first time seeing one in real life.

The fourth story in this book - The Balance of Themis, has Kwan uncovering the actual killer. Nevertheless, the lack of solid evidence has Kwan outsmarted. I liked this story because of the almost CSI-like approach in establishing the crime scene and discovering a crime within a crime. When Justice is eventually delivered, it is bittersweet, demonstrating life’s imperfections.

Least Favorite Story

The second story of this book - The Prisoner’s Dilemma, attempts at some character building, establishing the closeness of the relationship between Kwan and his protege Sunny. However, it lacked the detective and crime-solving finesse of the other stories.

Other Quotes

There was a thick layer of mud at the bottom of the lake; best not to stir it, to keep the water as pristine as possible. Scoop away the muck very carefully, a little at a time. Too much and you’d foul the whole lake, destroying its ecology.

This is how power works. The ones at the top make use of ideals, beliefs and money to entice those below them to give up their lives. People want to find some lofty reason for existence, or else to lead a quiet life. You’d need to give them a big incentive for them to willingly enslave themselves.

‘There’s some sort of infectious disease spreading, and the government’s urged everyone to stay home. This virus – I think it’s called SARS – seems to be spreading quite fast, especially in Kowloon, and people are afraid to go out.

But it wouldn’t be feasible for Britain to cut the territory in half after 1997, continuing to govern Kowloon and the Island whilst returning the New Territories to China.

Inspectors were known in Hong Kong as ‘Bon-pans’, after an old term for Chinese officers who spoke English in the Qing Dynasty, so senior inspectors naturally became ‘Big Bons’, a coveted position in the regional departments.