THE MASTER OF RAIN
A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers, but that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.
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 naïve, 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. (Apr. 16)