From: Brian Thornton ( tieresias@worldnet.att.net)
Date: 16 Mar 2005

Meant to post this a couple of weeks back, and can't recall whether I did here at Rara Avis or not. My apologies if I already did and have forgotten it. I liked this book enough to tell the folks here about it, though, so here goes.


The protagonist, Richard Field, arrives in Shanghai in 1926, leaving behind genteel poverty and a family tragedy in Yorkshire. He's taken a job with the Shanghai police, working on a multi-national force dominated by the British, with a sprinkling of Americans, French, Germans, Russians and native Chinese also working for it. Soon after Field completes his training, a Russian girl who might or might not have been a prostitute is found brutally murdered, handcuffed to her bed, and horribly mutilated. Field is teamed up with an American from Chicago named Caprisi and a Chinese named Chen, and the three of them attempt to solve the case. This is no mean feat, as there is international business involved, rampant corruption at all levels of the city's international government, Chinese gangsters, drug runners, Communist agitators, and everwhere the expatriate "White" Russians trying to keep from being deported back to Russia.


Bradby does an admirable job of making the city of Shanghai itself a major character of this book. He has a real feel for setting the scene, for keeping his characters in context against the exotic background of a city full of energy and purpose, threatening to overwhelm those who aren't strong enough swimmers to keep just ahead of the relentless tide of its "progress." This is as grim a portrayal of any city as I've seen since reading Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle." I don't think that any of the streets of 1920s Shanghai are anything other than "mean." Life is cheap if you're Chinese or Russian. Only Europeans matter to the powers that be in what are called
"the Concession" (predominantly British and American, with a smattering of other nationalities) and the infinitely more corrupt (which is saying something) "French Concession," where no one's life matters unless they have someone on their payroll.

Bradby also does a great job with his supporting characters, including a Russian femme fatale that could have been played in the movie by Ava Gardner, two feuding police commandants, one Irish, the other Scottish, a menacing Chinese warlord named Lu, the influential and wealthy uncle who secured Field's position in the Shanghai police and the uncle's nymphomaniac wife, and that's just for starters.

There were some good and unexpected twists in the plot, to boot.

No spoilers here, though.

WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: There were some holes in the plot, and they got in the way of the narrative. Bradby is at his best when setting a scene, and some of the ways he described the emotions expressed by others in Field's presence were painfully awkward. At one point he says that Field "saw more pain in her eyes than he thought he'd ever seen before." Then ten pages later he says the same thing about someone else. Bradby is a reporter for ITN, and is really at his best when keeping to a straight narrative.

Also, I knew halfway through the book who the murderer was.

None of the above got in my way so much that I didn't thoroughly enjoy the read, and I recommend it highly.

All the Best-

Brian Thornton

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