Category Archive: Duncan Jepson

Emperors Once More By Duncan Jepson, Crime Pieces

I’ve recently read a couple of books set in the near future, all of which were united by the sense of impending catastrophe. Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson is set in 2017 but the world, at first, doesn’t appear to be vastly different to that of now. However, all of the European Union is in economic crisis and has been bailed out by China. It is about to default on its debts and many Chinese feel it’s now time that old slurs and insults are avenged. Detective Alex Soong from the Hong Kong police is asked to investigate the murder of two Methodist ministers, whose deaths are quickly followed by the discovery of a gruesome massacre. The brutality of the killings has echoes of the atrocities of the Boxer Rebellion, which results in Alex approaching a renowned historian to help identify links to the past.

Despite its 2017 setting, the book has the feel of a present day thriller. Hong Kong hasn’t changed beyond recognition although the ever-watching presence of the media appears to have escalated to the extent that there is a running commentary on everything that Alex does. He is given an interesting back story: his parents were forced to give up their daughters under the one child policy and Alex is determined, one day, to track them down. He is married to the beautiful Jun, who refuses to engage in any discussion about the darker side of his job but is unwittingly dragged into the investigation.

The book is a compelling read both in terms of the pull of the narrative and enticing the reader into empathising with the central characters, which is key given some of the events that occur later in the book. One of the Jepson’s greatest strengths is the way in which he manages to write about the ferocity of the violence with a restraint that can be missing in other crime fiction writers. There is clearly more milage left in Alex Soong; Emperors Once Moreis the first in a trilogy and it will be interesting to see how the characters develop given  the changes that have taken place in their lives.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

Emperors Once More By Duncan Jepson, Asian Books Blog

500 Words From…is a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books.  Here Duncan Jepson explains the background behindEmperors Once More, which is published today.  The novel is the first in a Hong Kong-based crime trilogy featuring Detective Alex Soong.
Duncan Jepson lives in Hong Kong. His first novel was  All The Flowers In Shanghai.  A founder and former managing editor of theAsia Literary Review, he writes regularly for the New York TimesPublishing Perspectives and the South China Morning Post.
Emperors Once More is set in the near future. It’s Hong Kong, 2017. China has bailed out the West, but the West has defaulted on its debt. On the eve of a crisis summit for world economic leaders, two Chinese Methodist ministers are killed in an apparently motiveless execution in Hong Kong’s financial district.
It appears that luck alone makes Detective Alex Soong one of the first officers at the scene.  But is his involvement more than incidental? Is the crime itself more than a senseless assassination? It seems so: Soong is contacted by a mysterious figure, and more massacres follow.
With the eyes of the world’s media fixed on Hong Kong, Soong must race to intercept his tormentor, and thwart a conspiracy born from one of the bloodiest confrontations of China’s past, which now threatens destruction in the present.
So: 500 words from Duncan Jepson…
It is known as the century of humiliation, a term that arose in China in the early 1900s to describe a number of events that started with the First Opium War in 1839 and was thought to have ended with the Communist Revolution in 1949. Those years included painful suffering at the hands of imperial powers and unequal treaties signed requiring China to pay what would now be billions of Renminbi. But it also involved some self-inflicted injuries such as the Taiping Rebellion and a general failure to modernise as needed to defend against foreign powers.
Yet, it had not ended, following a few productive years, China fell headlong into another twenty years of madness through the 100 Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In the 1970s, Chinese people emerged from isolation to find that after 5000 years of civilisation, the last one hundred plus years had left them decades behind people in the West, who barely claim half the history. It seemed an unbelievable situation and the reaction was what some psychologists call the superiority inferiority complex – bitterness at a lost rightful place in the world but also doubt in the belief that perhaps it was deserved at all. For several generations there was a feeling of inferiority, a terribly heavy burden, to some it became a belief and way of life.
Emperors Once More is a story about an angry and bitter person from the generation which feels it has been betrayed by history and a young man from the new generation of modern global Chinese who are as comfortable in Europe or the US as they are in China. I wanted these generations to clash in an open forum but I also wanted to create a story that was entertaining and that pushed me as a writer. One particular story point was the demand by the older generation to return to better days regardless of the high cost and confused reasoning.
Longing for the familiar and fear and resistance to change can push people to try to stem whatever is next and spend vast resources on avoiding confronting the inevitable. Most wasteful is expense on war and revolution just to force a return to the past. Chinese history and culture is full of examples of attempts to maintain the past and a belief in the unquestioned respect for that which once was. To be declared a great classical artist was to have copied perfectly the masters before, to honour one’s parents was to follow their instruction, perhaps even forgo one’s own life for them, and at work one would be commanded without question. So much of the future given up, but not in humble deference to wisdom, often only in blind eagerness to nothing more than age.
The main character is hurt deeply by his own and his parents’ past and he transfers all his anger to reinstating the values and beliefs of something largely best left to fade into history. But he cannot, and instead must recreate it from jagged pieces of confused understanding and mistaken belief. Only a person who wants even more a new and unfamiliar future to succeed can defeat him and the two figures repeatedly clash as the story develops, each teasing the other that they are delusional and set to fail.


Another important element was to try to write a story with a faster pace than my first novel, and to meet the conventions of a crime novel. The level of difficulty was much more demanding and complex than I had imagined. A crime novel must meet the reader at pace and then maintain that momentum. I can only hope that I have succeeded in some way and that there is interest in a sequel as there are other relationships that I would like to explore in this narrative structure which might not be so successful shaped into another form.
Emperors Once More is published by Quercus. The hardback should be widely available in Asia, priced in local currencies, and the eBook  can be purchased from on-line bookstores, or else here direct from Quercus.

Emperors Once More is eligible for the ABB Book of the Lunar Year inthe Year of the Horse – see the post of Jan 30, 2014 for details. If you want to vote for it, please do so by posting a comment, or by e-mailing

A Graphic Description of China – Katrina Hamlin

A Graphic Description of China – Katrina Hamlin

Review: Darkness Outside the Night, a graphic novel by Xie Peng and Duncan Jepson, an article from H.A.L. Publishing

page164 Darkness

Darkness Outside the Night is a rare specimen: a graphic novel from China.

That particular novelty is both a hot selling point and a potential flaw.

The book’s raw images and sharp words describe life in an unnamed dystopia. There is a nightmarish city and a small, vulnerable protagonist. He suffers intense pain and fear, chased by monsters and misfortune.

In the beginning we see the creature sitting alone in a dark room with only a blaring  television as a substitute for company. We watch him driven to a rage by boredom. He smashes the television to smithereens.

He breaks free from the apartment that looks and feels more like a prison, but fighting boredom gets him nowhere: By doing a violence to his own confined life he is freed from the dark room only to wander out into another kind of darkness, where he faces a greater rage and more violence.

His ultimate fate is not clear to the reader. There is neither a dramatic escape, nor a terrible demise. The only possible conclusion is that life goes on, as unpleasant as ever. The question of whether or not the protagonist will one day find something better lingers.

In short, it’s a horrific and frustrating narrative, and yet there is something captivating about these scenes and their inhabitant. The book is a deeply disturbing creation, and still it’s hard to look away. As a piece of fiction it is a compelling portrait of a lonely character in a desperate state.

However, despite these qualities, the book’s killer twist lies outside its pages. While very little is revealed about who or what or where this tiny gnome-like creature is in the drawings, the reader has little choice but to imagine that the story reflects the Chinese artist Xie Peng’s experiences in modern China.

Darkness began life as a series of images by Xie Peng, who drew them as separate pieces over six years, returning again and again to the same themes. Though they were never mindfully created as a narrative there was a coherence that hinted at a story. The pictures were only later noticed by the Hong Kong-based writer Duncan Jepson, who saw the potential and took on the task of putting words to pictures. His careful storytelling helps the journey to come together without distracting the viewer from the original illustrations. He also has a strong sense of the China background, having lived in Greater China for much of his life.

With the China link in place the book’s effects as a compassionate picture of pain and loneliness are heightened. The anonymous dystopia becomes someone’s home, somewhere real, adding colour and feeling to the dry accounts of economics and politics that otherwise dominate media coverage of modern China. The result is a very beautiful and terrifying tale, which — like it or not — will be difficult to forget.

But the China link may also be the book’s weakness. What would the story be like severed from this context? Would the story still pique a reader’s interest? Those questions may determine whether or not the book finds an audience beyond China-watchers and China.

It’s possible to argue that the connection is not vital: The setting and the main character do not need to be seen as Chinese since the story is coherent even without that link, and the sense of melancholy and restlessness the authors capture evoke big-city life and loneliness the world over.

But it is the China link that makes the wicked twist of the knife, elevating a gorgeous but miserable cartoon to a hard-hitting social commentary — and a human story.

Katrina Hamlin is a writer and journalist based in southern China. Her fiction has appeared in several China- and US-based journals. She is a long-time contributor to HAL Literature publications.

Darkness Outside the Night, by Xie Peng and Duncan Jepson, is available from iTunesAmazon, Google Play, and Kobo. 


Renaissance man


Pavan Shamdasani

Duncan Jepson – lawyer, writer and filmmaker – puts ideas into action, writes Pavan Shamdasani

Despite all its opportunities, fast pace and thriving arts scene, Hong Kong often seems to be more about ideas than action. People may talk a lot, but don’t always follow through on their seemingly brilliant plans.

That’s never been a problem for Duncan Jepson. A lawyer by day, Jepson balances his already busy career with a number of creative endeavours: writing books and graphic novels, making films and documentaries, editing the Asia Literary Review magazine, and running a literary agency. Click here to read more »

A criminal mind

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. Click here to read more »



牡丹花版权代理公司很高兴宣布售出畅销作家及电影制片Duncan Jepson的两本小说

伦敦,2 2013, Duncan Jepson的侦探系列的第一本小说Emperors Once More 叙述一位警察Alex  Soong调查牵扯到义和团运动的阴谋论。本书将由Quercus UK(Stieg Larsson的出版社)在2014年出版。

Duncan Jepson的第一本小说All the Flowers of Shanghai ( 由HarperCollins美国出版。他合作著作漫画《夜空之外的黑色》的故事,本书由谢鹏绘画(英国Tabella出版)并收到诺贝尔文学奖得主莫言的好评。

“我很高兴这些故事在Quercus Publishing找到一个家。” Duncan Jepson

“Duncan Jepson是国际犯罪文学的一位出色的声音。。。Emperors Once More 是他和Quercus合作之间一个令人兴奋的开始。” Jon Riley, Quercus