Away from his day job in the legal department of an asset-management company in Hong Kong, Duncan Jepson is an author and filmmaker. He has directed and produced two documentaries, and his written work includes a historical novel called “All the Flowers in Shanghai.”

Now, Mr. Jepson has turned his hand to crime writing. Released in March, “Emperors Once More” is set in the underbelly of Hong Kong in 2017, and follows inspector Alex Soong as he tries to unravel the seemingly random murder of two Chinese Methodist ministers. They are killed on the eve of a crisis summit for world economic leaders, called after Europe defaults on a loan from China.

The author, who was born in the northern English city of Sheffield, first traveled to China in 1981 as a 12-year-old. He was with his parents and grandparents on a search for long-lost relatives—his Singaporean mother’s ancestors were originally from Xiamen, in southeast China.

Mr. Jepson has spent the past 14 years living in Hong Kong, but he misses the open space of northern England’s Yorkshire Dales. He spoke to the Journal about how practicing law has informed his crime writing, the difference between Chinese and Western literature, and what it means to be Eurasian. Edited excerpts:

You have lots of different roles: author, lawyer, editor, filmmaker. How do you juggle them?

The key thing is to know what you can do and get on with that. Know what you can’t do and work with somebody who can do it, and don’t get in their way. How do you write a book? I don’t know. I write these stories and send them to publishers and they turn them into a book. Up until that point I’m just a crazy person writing words onto a computer.

Last year, you wrote an article for Publishing Perspectives titled “Why the West Fails to Understand Chinese Literature.” Why do they?

You look at a scroll and it’s often without a vanishing point, it’s without a particular perspective. Western painting has been modeled on an idea of a vanishing point. That is relevant because Western stories tend to want to have a point: There is a definite, distinct journey, whereas Asian literature can be much more ethereal. The trouble is the Western story structure is much easier to access and appreciate universally. The Asian one, and Chinese in particular, is much harder.

What do we miss in translation?

When you read Chinese literature in Chinese, the characters themselves speak. For example, when you see the character for wood, you can see a forest in the actual word. That level of aesthetic in the West is not present.

How has your career informed your crime writing?

I did quite a few investigations into white-collar crime: cases of market manipulation, fraud. You get to understand what it is to be criminal. It’s about people who succumb to an opportunity, people who start out thinking that a small thing isn’t really a big issue and then it slides slowly into something much larger until they haven’t just put one foot over the line but are well into a different territory. It is willful blindness, ego and fragility. Greed and sympathy and intent all become very interesting to look at as a writer.

Your Eurasian heritage also feeds into your work. What were your experiences like growing up with a Chinese Singaporean mother and a British father in northern England?

In my generation you got called “chink” and had stones thrown at you. There was nothing positive about being Eurasian at all until I was in my mid-20s. When I went to [live] in Singapore they said: “You’re not full blood.” Even in the mid-80s they would say you’re not really Chinese. Now when I see kids and they are Eurasian it is a massively positive experience.

What is “Emperors Once More” about?

The book is about humiliation. The antagonist is an older man and he lives in a [Chinese] generation that feels humiliated. Alex Soong is from a younger generation that is no longer bound by these national identities. It is about these two generations battling it out.

Why set it in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is small, it’s tight, there are a lot of people all rubbing up against each other. Plus it’s a society that believes in making opportunities for yourself, and in that environment some good stuff, but also some bad stuff, is going to happen. People are in each other’s faces all the time. As a place for a crime story, it allows you to move from one environment to the next very quickly because it is so small. It gives you some dark and lonely places.

Tell us about your hero, chief inspector Alex Soong, who is American-educated, has family in mainland China, but lives in Hong Kong.

There is a point where he thinks he is losing control. He is stressed, alone and beginning to doubt everything [he] knows. He believes in the world that exists now, not the China-centric world that many older Chinese like to believe. He respects the law, but he sees it as an element of culture. What he prizes more than anything are human relationships. At the same time he is not afraid of a fight.

You are writing the sequel, which is about human trafficking and takes place partly in northern England. Why move it there?

Liverpool was a center of the slave trade throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. One reason [for looking at human trafficking] is that I started a charity called Liberty Asia in Hong Kong in 2012. [Trafficking] is an activity that is gruesome but at the same time has been going for 5,000 years.

You have a large tattoo, one of three, on your back. What does it mean?

The tattoo reminds me to do what is right. It is of one of the four Buddhist guardians called Komokuten, the guardian of awareness and knowledge. And he traditionally stands with one foot on this demon called the Amanojaku. He is the demon of distraction. It was to remind me to just be aware and seek knowledge.