City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai

Paul French. Picador, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-17058-3
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. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/16/2018
Release date: 07/03/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-4272-9846-1
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-250-17059-0
Show other formats
Discover what to read next