In 1940, Lucky Jack and Dapper Joe bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation, and war. They thought they ruled Shanghai, but the city had other ideas.
In the 1930s, Shanghai was an outpost of wealth, culture and vice in a country riven by civil war. Within the port city’s borders was a smaller island, the International Settlement, created by Britain in the 19th century as a beachhead for the opium trade it forced upon the Chinese ... the Settlement and its adjacent neighborhoods, the French Concession and Badlands, were hemmed in by a China 'constantly on the point of collapse, about to fragment into a hundred warring states,' its denizens 'the paperless, the refugee, the fleeing; those who sought adventure far from the Great Depression and poverty; the desperate who sought sanctuary from fascism and communism; those who sought to build criminal empires; and those who wished to forget,' writes British-born author Paul French in his new nonfiction book, City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai ... French conjures out of old records, newspaper clippings and survivors’ memories a true story with the dark resonance of James Ellroy’s novel L.A. Confidential and the seedy glamour of Alan Furst’s between-the-wars mysteries. It’s the tale of two antiheroes, men who had lived several lives by the time they got to Shanghai.
It's a story of old Shanghai. It’s the story of racial and class divides. It’s the story of a city between world wars and the fall of the 'Paris of the Orient' during the second. And it features a cast of dozens, all brought back to life with vivid detail and panache by Paul French ... French’s powerful voice is perfectly suited to his subject matter. The omnipresent, hardboiled narration would be at home in any noir, and though this is nonfiction, the larger-than-life figures fall into nearly every trope of that genre. There are deadly dames aplenty—beautiful showgirls, desperate prostitutes, dangerous drug addicts, and mobster’s molls. Cutthroat racketeers who stack the odds in the house’s favor, pull razor blades during riots, and shrug when someone else takes the fall for their transgressions. Toadies and henchmen. Traitors and corrupt G-men ... From the very introduction, you’ll be hooked. I honestly can’t remember the last time a work of nonfiction was so compelling and readable; I devoured half of the book before I came up for air.
Before WWII, Shanghai was the Paris of the Orient, but the level of criminal underground activity had foreign powers fearing it would also become 'Chicago on the Whangpoo.' ... With the narrative rhythm of classic noir and the polyglot slang of 1930s Shanghai, French, tells a fast-paced, page-turning yarn about the rise and fall of two of the city’s crime kings.