Volume One takes place in the colonial era, when Hong Kong aches and strains from growing pains. The profitable, destructive opium wars have fueled the transformation of a place that was once a sleepy tropical inlet into a bustling, exotic, corrupt Mecca.
Lu Song, Tang Yubo and Ling Xi, mischievous boys, have embraced magic, acrobatics and puzzles as antidotes to a place that offers little stability and no fatherly guidance.
Song has been given a job at the postal office in Kowloon, in the new territories across Hong Kong harbor. He is posted to the Dead Letter Office. Stringent rules peak Song’s curiosity. Slowly he entreats his friends to see the dead letter office as the exotic and mysterious game it is.
He finds himself at the Walled City, a former Chinese military barracks that has since become an isolated haven for refugees escaping the political instability in mainland China.
In the midst of this, a series of child kidnappings, both inside the Walled City and in Hong Kong proper, begin to occur. The exquisite pain of those who lose their children touches Song in deep ways, and his need to understand the larger mysteries behind it drives him deeper into the folds of the city.
It's nearly impossible not to follow him.
Nocturne Volume Two
Volume Two takes place in two eras.
The first leaps forward from Volume One, into the 1930’s. The British now shape Hong Kong into the playground for free trade for which it becomes famous. It is also when China’s internal strife borders on chaos. The liberation of traditional ideals are unleashed. The eccentricities of the island rub off on everyone, the greed is more palpable, the lust and caution ride herd on both the young and old.
Despite British attempts to evacuate the Walled City, the population has resiliently grown by leaps and bounds. Both the British and the Chinese now deem the ghetto a legal and civic No Man’s Land.
So the city evolves into a world of its own. Make shift clinics, butchers, temples, schools and symphonies all spring up inside the walls. The crime syndicate, the Triads, led by an exiled policeman from Shanghai, take hold inside the city. The city is free thinking, strangely harmonious – and chaotic.
Amid this, the search for the child kidnappers from Book One has escalated.
Also, the trio of young acrobat-magicians have grown; the innocence that immersed them in Book One now entraps them as they learn to become men.
Song, a compassionate, radicalized young man, determined to understand and unravel the child crimes, becomes the unlikely champion of women and children throughout Hong Kong. Yet the seductions his friends experience elude him.
Xi has become a mainstay of the Walled City. His efforts as an acrobat, which ended in a terrible tragedy at Book One’s end, serve to create, not dead ends, but unlikely new bridges.
Walls rise for Yubo in Book Two. What begins as an idle flirtation with the daughter of Hong Kong’s most illustrious astrologer grows into a vulnerable, soulful love affair – bound by a ‘blue’ ring which ties them together.
The earlier era begins to illuminate – more and more - the trilogy’s central figure. It begins with the kidnapping of a young boy the morning a ship bound from Calcutta to Hong Kong launches. One vital moment on the docks of Calcutta defined the boy and he sinks deeper and deeper into the abandon of misguided love. He navigates his tangled complexities by building a new world.
With his story, larger echoes surface: by Book Two’s end the undercurrents of unbridled power, manipulation, and heartbreaking loss begin to show terrible cracks in the walls.
Listening to the Hundred Fold Notes of the Avowed Nightingales Volume Three
Volume Three is an elegy, a story of reflection; and an homage to fate.
Like Volume Two, the story takes place in two eras, the 1920s, and the 1960s.
Hong Kong of the 1960s is a swinging spot. International money has poured in, the love of financial and moral freedoms Hong Kong offers; the exotic, cagey lures that are everywhere; it’s all too irresistible.
It is the last era of the Walled City’s existence, the city is now the most infamous ghetto on earth; a lawless haven, an autonomous, free wheeling anarchy. The ideals which the city’s inhabitants embraced are also why the city meets its destiny.
This book ties all fates in the story together as two games unfold.
One is the deceptively simple game of Go – the Chinese board game that has captivated centuries of Asian players. In this case there are two: Benjamin Bing, the boy stolen off the docks in Calcutta, and his opponent, an anonymous British citizen who may or may not know clues to Ben’s past.
The other game is much more mysterious -- and has no rules. The ‘blue’ ring which first surfaced in Book One as it slipped ashore in Hong Kong Bay – then surfaced again when it bound two lovers in Book Two – now teases the fates of all the characters.
A young courier brings a long lost ‘blue’ ring to a gems dealer. It sets off a cascade, illuminating a path backwards, to where the ring began and with that, a full understanding of the fragile bridges which bind the Walled City and the larger world around it.
Little by little, the ring ties the fate of the trilogy’s central figure to the kidnapped children, then the intrepid acrobat-magicians who inhabit the trilogy -- and last, those who inhabited the Walled City itself.