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A Death in Hong Kong

In January 1980 a young police officer named John MacLennan committed suicide in his Ho Man Tin flat. His death came mere hours before he was to be arrested for committing homosexual acts still, at that point, illegal in Hong Kong. But this was more than the desperate act of a young man, ashamed and afraid; both his death and the subsequent investigation were a smokescreen for a scandal that went to the heart of the establishment. 

MacLennan came to Hong Kong from Scotland during a time of social unrest and corruption scandals, a time when the triads still took their cut, and when homosexuality and paedophilia were considered interchangeable and both offered easy targets for blackmail. The governorship of Sir Murray MacLehose was to be a time of reform and progress, but with that remit came the determination of many to suppress scandals and silence those who stirred up trouble. Both the life and death of John MacLennan seemed to many of those in power to threaten the stability of one of Britain’s last colonies.

Winner of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong's History Book Prize, 2017

The Royal Asiatic Society, Hong Kong, March 2018

The Asian Review of Books, 1 March 2018


Kate Whitehead in the South China Morning Post, 15 January 2018 and in the Singapore Straits Times, 14 January 2018

Martin Hannan, the National, Scotland, 16 January 2018

Kate Whitehead in the South China Morning Post, 18 February 2018

Nigel Collett’s thoroughly researched and sensitive book is the last word on the MacLennan affair. Not only does he cover it in painstaking detail, following leads and explaining the many inconsistencies in the case, but he also puts MacLennan’s suicide in its social and historical context, and places it against a much bigger scandal that was brushed under the carpet.


Dallas Sanders, Green Tea Post, 23 March 2018

Collett hopes to set the record straight with his very detailed and well-researched book helps to explain the circumstances around MacLennan’s death involving some of the highest levels of the Hong Kong legal profession of the time. It also looks at the $16 million inquiry, the largest in Hong Kong’s history, which eventually lead to the decriminalization of homosexual acts.

The hope is to learn the lessons of this tragic death simply because of his sexual orientation and how we must not allow this to happen again.

Walter de Havilland blog, 28 March 2018

This book, ‘A Death in Hong Kong’ is probably the last word on the issue, unless new evidence comes to light. Nigel Collett, the author, has conducted painstaking research. He has coupled this detail with a clear explanation of the timeline. The examination is forensic, balanced for the most part, as he seeks to give an honest account of events. He portrays the key players, sets the scene and speaks to their motivations. Also, he adds details that are significant and new.

Saikung Buzz, July 15, 2018

A bombshell of a book has rolled off the presses of City University. It is not over-writing to describe “A Death in Hong Kong” as shocking, appalling and riveting.

Christopher Munn in the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong's Journal, 21 September 2018

Nigel Collett's superb account of the MacLennan case takes a long hard look at the facts [...] Collett weaves the strands of this complex affair into a compelling narrative.


Jeff Pao, Asia Times, 'Greats Reads for the New Year', 1 January 2019


The Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong,  8 March 2018


The Asia Society, Hong Kong, 12 March 2018


Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, 4 July 2018

The City University, Hong Kong, 3 August 2018

Royal Commonwealth Society, Hong Kong, 27 August 2018

Buckingham University, Vice Chancellor's Series, 24 September 2018


The Tongzhi Literary Group, 23 June 2016

Phil Whelan, Morning Brew, RTHK Radio 4, 12 March 2018

Dimsum Magazine, 22 March 2018


Sarah Karacs in Zolima City Magazine, 20 June 2018

Melanie Ho, China Daily, 20 July 2018

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