City of Devils
A Shanghai Noir
By Paul French
A spellbinding and dramatic account of Shanghai's lawless 1930s and two of its most notorious criminals, by the author of the prize winning Midnight in Peking
'A fascinating tale of life and death in a city on the brink of all-out war' Time, on Midnight in Peking
'He resurrects a period that was filled with glitter as well as evil, but was never, as readers will appreciate, known for being dull' Economist, on Midnight in Peking
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.
Paul French lived in Shanghai for ten years, where he was a business advisor and analyst. He frequently comments on China for the English-speaking press around the world. French studied history, economics, and Mandarin at university and has an M.Phil in economics from the University of Glasgow. He lives in London.
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- Publication date:
28 Jun 2018
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An astonishing achievement, magically transporting the reader back to Old Shanghai, then sweeping us through its streets and its bars in a gripping, breakneck ultra-noir narrative reminiscent of vintage Ellroy. — David Peace
Few writers are more expert at mingling crime narrative and social history, journalistic precision and novelistic sweep, than Paul French. His books paint times and places so beguiling and tell stories so vivid and harrowing that, within pages, we're utterly in their dark thrall. If you love Richard Lloyd Parry and David Grann, don't miss City of Devils. — Megan Abbott
A brilliant neo-noir about the rise and fall of two refugee outlaws at the end of Shanghai's golden age in the 1930's. Not since JG Ballard's Empire of the Sun or Andre Malraux's La Condition Humaine have I read a book that has so captured the decadence, pulchritude and madness of the 'Paris of the Orient'. I cannot recommend City of Devils highly enough. — Adrian McKinty
To understand the 'surrealistic city', as Shanghai is often nicknamed, City of Devils is an absolute must. It's a solid, groundbreaking historical true crime account, written with such vivid, well-researched details. It totally captured me, a native Shanghainese, in a time capsule of passions and pathos about the city's unknown past. — Qiu Xiaolong, author of the Inspector Chen series