'Shanghai's champion storyteller - He grips his reader to the end' Economist
'Gripping, breakneck ultra-noir reminiscent of vintage Ellroy' David Peace, author of Red or Dead
'If you love Richard Lloyd Parry and David Grann, don't miss City of Devils' Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made - and lost.
'Lucky' Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was 'Dapper' Joe Farren - a Jewish boy who fled Vienna's ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld's and his name was in lights above the city's biggest casino.
In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.
In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.
Drugs, gambling, vice, and banditry power China's seaport mecca in this rollicking true crime saga. Historian French (Midnight in Peking) recreates Shanghai between the world wars, when its extraterritorial status the United States, European nations, and Japan legally controlled parts of the city made it a booming metropolis and home to a teeming expat community of Jews fleeing Nazism, Russians fleeing bolshevism, and shady Westerners fleeing their pasts. French's panorama centers on Joe Farren, a Viennese Jew who became a dance-show impresario and casino-owner; and Jack Riley, an escaped convict from Oklahoma who ran slot machines, smuggled heroin, and financed Farren's classier enterprises. In French's wonderfully atmospheric portrait, Shanghai is a tapestry of grungy dive bars, swanky nightspots, drunken soldiers, brazen showgirls, Chinese gangsters, corrupt cops, and schemers like "Evil Evelyn," a madam who enticed wealthy wives with gigolos and blackmailed them with the resulting photos. The 1937 Japanese military occupation darkens the party with war, privation, and despair. French's two-fisted prose "When Boobee hops on a bar stool, lights an opium-tipped cigarette, and crosses her long legs, the sound of a dozen tensed-up male necks swinging round is like... a gunshot" makes this deep noir history unforgettable.