REVIEW: Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen

In brief: Ava is a bored mother trying to steer her son through the terrible twos with an absent husband. Winnie is an old friend with a proposition to make money selling counterfeit handbags. Before Ava knows it, she’s in deep.

The good: An enjoyable twist.

The not-so-good: Got a little bit same-same towards the end.

Why I chose it: The cover caught my eye!

Year: 2022

Pages: 276

Publisher: The Borough Press (Harper Collins)

Setting: USA and China

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I don’t usually choose my books by recommendations from celebrities or book clubs (or both), but I’ve noticed that I enjoy quite a few of Reese Witherspoon’s recommendations. (I’ve also noticed that I tend to independently pick up good to read that Roxane Gay has reviewed – who knows, we could all be best book buds!) Anyway, what initially attracted me to Counterfeit was the cover – very striking, although is that just one big long earring in the woman’s ear or an Apple bag tag? All of this aside, Counterfeit is a unique read – think high end crime meets Sex and the City meets Crazy Rich Asians.

The story is told in the first person by Ava, about she met an old college friend who just happened to be running a business where high-end luxury handbags are bought, then returned using ‘superfakes’ – top quality fakes of the rarest, most sought-after designs and colours. The originals are then sold on. It’s a well-run scam and Winnie needs help. Ava is reluctant at first, but she’s bored of being a stay-at-home mum and has no desire to return to work. Her son is keen on throwing tantrums and not talking and her husband throws his life into his work. Isolated, what else can Ava do? Her one attempt at independence leaves her embarrassed and broke in Hong Kong, so she is practically forced to join Winnie. But both are good at what they do, no matter their motivation (Ava – get her son into a good preschool; Winnie – get her boss and former lover a liver transplant via Ava’s husband). The business readily expands. But then there’s a twist in the narrative. It turns out that Ava’s been telling all this to a detective and now it’s time to hear from Winnie. Who (if anyone) is innocent? Who is telling the truth?

The twist halfway through Counterfeit is undoubtedly its biggest strength, forcing the reader to reconsider everything they just read about Ava’s side of the story. Is she who she says she is? Reading about Ava’s recollection of events of a trip to China versus what Winnie recalls she was told is possibly the strongest part of the novel to sow the seeds of doubt. But overall, the crime is on the ‘lite’ side. If you enjoy reading descriptions of luxury handbags and the rarer, more expensive finishes, you will delight in reading some parts of the text. (But a LV defect? Never! But what a crucial part of the plot…) Other parts like using Asian women to be the ‘invisible’ couriers of returned goods sat awkwardly with me by the use of stereotypes. I also wonder at the looseness of the American returns system – it seems like you could return anything for any reason without any scrutiny – and how much of a role it could play in a scam like this.

I found Counterfeit to be light and fun overall despite the above points. The last part dragged out a little with a super speedy epilogue, but this would be a good holiday or midweek read.


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