A criminal mind

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Matt Fleming investigates Duncan Jepson's forthcoming detective series in a 'dark' Hong Kong

We haven't sat down with Duncan Jepson since his debut, All the Flowers in Shanghai, hit the shelves more than a year ago. That tome, which explores the role of Chinese women in society, was a big hit in our part of the world – and, since then, the 43-year-old lawyer and author has penned a graphic novel, Darkness Outside The Night, with Beijing-based illustrator Xie Peng, which was published in November. And now he's just been given a two-book deal by British publishing house Quercus for a forthcoming detective series.

Jepson has many strings to his bow. He's the regional head of legal for an asset management company in Hong Kong. He's also a film-maker – his last movie was a documentary feature, Hope Without Future?, about poverty in Nepal. Prior to that, Follow Your Heart: China's New Youth Movement focused on hip-hop and free-thinking Chinese youths. He's also established two charitable projects – Project Share supports youngsters in Hong Kong and Liberty Asia aids the fight against slavery in the region. But it's as an author where he's arguably made his biggest impact.

Jepson says he's working closely with Quercus (the company which published the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) on his new books. "It's a great home for my story so I'm very happy," he says. "The deal is for a two-book series. The first one, which is finished and now being edited, is titled Emperors Once More. I have yet to start the sequel but I have begun the research and already have a few ideas so the story is starting to form. The first story, however, is of a serial killer in Hong Kong who is motivated by Chinese history, particularly the events at the turn of the 20th century, and is being tracked down by a young mainland Chinese detective who was briefly educated in the USA and is now stationed in Hong Kong. It is set two years in the future and is slated to be out during spring next year."

Jepson reckons our city is a great place to stage a crime thriller. "Hong Kong has a lot of people crammed into a very small space," he says. "Most of them get up every day to work hard in the pursuit of survival, security, raising their kids and, in most cases, getting rich. Life is hard and people get frustrated, angry and jealous. It all makes for a potentially explosive mix, ripe for collisions, crime and pain. The city also has many dark and crooked spaces for grim and ugly things to occur. And they do, whether it's financial crime or vicious physical criminal activity and exploitation. The intense living conditions in Hong Kong offer a lot to stimulate the imagination and can make for a good story!"

Jepson's written the first book in the series from a woman's perspective, in the first person. The Brit (originally from the Yorkshire Dales) says he hopes he's already been 'pushed further' as a writer by working on the new series. He also realises how tough it is to 'make it' as a Hong Kong writer in the English language – but he says it may not always be this way. "From my work with Hong Kong youths," he says, "I think there are more teens and 20-somethings who are artists, writers and creatives, compared to the older generations. Stories are at the heart of much creative work, so the situation for writers here could become better for all over time. If not then we've let hugely talented artistic potential in Hong Kong be wasted." Here, here, Jepson. We agree.

To find out more about Jepson's charity projects check out facebook.com/LibertyAsia or facebook.com/ProjectShare.
For details on Jepson's debut, see alltheflowersinshanghai.com.

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