“No Going Back” by Sheena Kamal

Sheena Kamal Sheena Kamal

Nora Watts is on the run from the very man she’s trying to hunt down. With an ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese villain as protagonist and partially set on the Indonesian island of Lombok, Sheena Kamal’s third book in her Nora Watts thriller series, No Going Back, tells the story of a half-Palestinian/half-indigenous Canadian trying to save her teenage daughter from the man who is after both women.

Although the two previous books give more backstory as to how a man named Dao came to put a hit on Nora, readers do not need to be familiar with either of those books to follow No Going Back.  Nora starts to track down Dao from her home in Vancouver. She traces his connections to Jimmy Fang, a triad boss who had ties to Vancouver, as well as Bernard Lam, the son of a tycoon and local investor, and a money shark named Van Nguyen. Finding Dao entails a trip to Lombok where he is now working in private security. The tropics are quite a change from Nora’s comfort zone in Canada.


I’m not in a jungle, I tell myself. The humidity isn’t pressing in on me. I’m not surrounded by banana trees and assailed by the sound of monkeys screeching. The late-afternoon sun isn’t trying to attack my exposed skin, and I’m not calm in the face of these extenuating circumstances, trying to hold on to all my hydration in this extreme heat. But I am calm, and I am in a jungle. Rather, in a bar near one. Too near for my comfort.


It’s on Lombok that Nora learns that Da also goes by the name David Tao. Although not obviously germane to the plot, Nora (and the reader) learn that David Tao was two years old when his mother took him out of Vietnam and “fled to a refugee camp in Hong Kong” via a treacherous boat journey across the South China Sea. Not long after arriving in Hong Kong, she and David were resettled in East London. Some of the provided background seems less than entirely accurate. Nora is told that


“There’s a sizeable ethnic Chinese population spread across Southeast Asia, Vietnam included… During the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese fled and ended up in refugee camps. Some of them made it to Hong Kong.”


While boat people indeed went to Hong Kong, this was after the War.


No Going Back, by Sheena Kamal (William Morrow, April 2020)
No Going Back, by Sheena Kamal (William Morrow, April 2020)

Nora and Dao continue their game of cat and mouse, ending up in the ski resort town of Whistler, a couple hours from Vancouver.

Nora contrasts herself to a noir femme fatale. Reviewers have compared the character to that of Lisbeth Salander, the heroine in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series: Nora has been orphaned, surrounds herself with former addicts, and loosely works for private investigators, often going out on her own without any backup. No Going Back is not as dark and depressing as the Stieg Larsson books, but it remains one of the very few international thrillers with female protagonists.

Susan Blumberg-Kason is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong.