Tom Bradby's third novel (though his first to be published in the U.S.) is a feverish work of historical noir, a labyrinthine thriller set in a vicious world where everyone--as in Bogart's Casablanca
--has a reason for hiding. The year is 1926; the city is Shanghai, a swamp of organized crime, corruption, turf wars between British intelligence and street-level law enforcement, Communist sympathizers, and East European refugees from Bolshevik atrocities. Into this sweltering, cutthroat port city steps Richard Field, an idealistic policeman from Yorkshire looking to distance himself from a painful past. Ill-suited to Shanghai's heat and shocking violence, Field nevertheless throws himself into investigating the grisly murder of a Russian prostitute, the latest in a line of dead women who lived in the orbit of a powerful Chinese mobster. Slowed by official roadblocks, Field learns that the only man in his department he can trust is a tough Chicago detective, Caprisi, a touchstone of sanity even as Field loses his rookie head over another doomed Russian call girl.
Bradby, a seasoned correspondent for Britain's ITN television network, has obviously spent considerable time researching 1920s Shanghai. His feel for the city's Byzantine society and exotic textures is matched by his accessible vision of Shanghai as a junction of international fallout and internal intrigue. Less compelling, if not outright distracting, is Bradby's more contemporary emphasis on ghastly serial killings with a sex-crime edge. But in the end, the book's remarkable prose and density of experience are uniquely rewarding. --Tom Keogh
From Publishers Weekly
British TV newsman Bradby used his time in Hong Kong to do some research on 1920s-era Shanghai, the result of which is this hefty first novel of corruption, debauchery and decaying colonialism. Richard Field, a young policeman from Yorkshire, lands a job in the Special Branch of Shanghai's police department circa 1926. Honest but naeve, the Englishman falls into a snake pit of corruption and rivalry, revealed when a Russian prostitute is savagely murdered by a maniac. The trail leads to local gangster "Pockmark" Lu Huang, a powerful opium smuggler; when evidence begins disappearing and mysterious cash deposits are made to his bank account, Field knows the department is dirty, but can't get support from anyone except his sidekick Caprisi (a pugnacious American transplant who cut his teeth fighting Capone in Chicago). What's more, Field falls hard for the dead Russian's neighbor, Natasha Medvedev, who is one of "Lu's girls" and therefore, as Field discovers, highly likely to meet a fate similar to her neighbor's, which Field learns is only one in a string of such homicides. But when Field's investigation threatens Lu's opium ring, Lu lashes out at the foreign police force and the body count rises precipitously. The novel works better as a multilayered mystery than as a period piece, as the background historical issues are obscured by the more modern focus on frenzied sex and death. Likewise, the obvious film noir look the author goes for is undermined by the late 20th-century serial-killer shtick he injects into the plot. Despite the periodic glimpse of Western elitism and building Chinese sympathy for communism, there is remarkably little use of local color (language, food, local customs) to satisfy readers of historical thrillers, though the mystery plot doesn't disappoint. Major ad/promo; author tour.
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