The Last Six Million Seconds is a marvelous combination of engrossing mystery and the drama of Hong Kong's transition from a British colony to the control of a Chinese dictatorship. Throughout the story, one of Burdett's strengths is his ability to capture the intangibles of culture. Consider this insight:
"In the beginning was the Word. But it was sung, not spoken. Prehistoric humans from Peking Man in the East to Cro Magnon in the West used the full range of the vocal scale to sing instructions for the hunt, sing guidance to their children, sing reverence to the gods that provided the mammoths. They would have despised the flat, dead speech of modern times for the tuneless whitterings of ghosts.....the oldest language in modern usage is also the most musical. With nine tones to condition meaning, Cantonese can present a challenge to a tin ear from the Bronx." (p.283)
Burdett uses Richard Hughes' formula of 'a borrowed place living on borrowed time' to explain the psychological challenge Hong Kong residents face during the last six million seconds before they return to Chinese control.
The criminal activities of the People's Liberation Army, including their willingness to use violence and intimidation to create rigged enrichment for a small handful of Generals, are described in accurate details. Burdett even uses official United Nations reports to enhance the sense of realism. He also manages to weave through all this the issue of the Laogai--the prison/slave labor system by which 50,000,000 people live lives of enslavement in China, according to Burdett.
Burdett's protagonist is a driven Chinese-Irish policeman seeking answers to the brutal deaths of two Chinese men and an American girl. The journey is worth the read. Indeed I am beginning to believe that anything John Burdett writes is worth reading.