In the casinos of Macau, a corrupt English solicitor masquerading as ‘Lord Doyle’ burns through a pile of stolen cash. His game of choice is punto banco, a version of baccarat requiring no skill, so his future lies in the hands of either mathematical chance or the supernatural. Which is it? The question will literally haunt the protagonist of Lawrence Osborne’s new novel. In turn, Doyle will cast an increasingly spectral shadow on those around him. It is no coincidence that Cantonese slang for foreigner is gwai lo, which translates as ‘ghost person’.
Osborne’s exceptional 2013 novel, The Forgiven, portrayed a group of decadent Westerners partying in the Moroccan desert, to the distaste of the locals. The Ballad of a Small Player is similarly fascinated by clashing cultures. But