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 his new book City of Devils, Paul French, author of the prizewinning true crime Midnight in Peking, does for Old Shanghai what he previously did for Old Beijing: portrays a city through its historical criminals ... Almost no one writing in English today does as much to capture the many faces of Shanghai: futuristic while crumbling, arrogant while insecure, cosmopolitan while provincial ... City of Devils markets itself as 'the story of the rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake,' of the bad boys of the Shanghai Badlands. But it is at least as good a read for the pen portrait it paints of Old Shanghai, as the city ran itself down into the half century of obscurity that would follow under Communism ... City of Devils is a tale for our times.
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.
By dint of an enormous amount of research, French follows these two men and dozens of their associates through all the twists and turns of their careers, culminating in the last thing either Farren or Riley ever thought would happen: the two of them joining forces to create 'much of the city's reputation as an international capital of sin and vice.' Much like Old Shanghai itself, this story of the rise to power of two opportunistic grifters had a terminus carved in stone from its very start; no matter how many show girls Farren could bully, no matter how many slot machines Riley owned, the old ramshackle den of crime and dissipation was doomed by the larger geopolitical events coming to a broil outside the paper-weak boundaries of the foreign settlements ... Readers seeking that old glamour and style will now have City of Devils to help them.