Truth be told, there was simply no way I wasn't going to read this book. The premise alone was enough for me - A Russian detective, having fled revolution and civil war investigating a series of grisly murders in 1920's Shanghai.
The story follows one Inspector Danilov around the bustling Chinese capital as he hunts for a serial killer on a particularly brutal campaign. A wonderfully unique setting for a crime story, full of various secondary European elements - British, French, and, of course, Russian - which add an interesting multicultural flavour to the Chinese locale during a fascinating period in its history.
Unfortunately, despite the promising synopsis, I felt the novel itself fell somewhat short of its mark. The story was typical of a murder investigation, a few genre tropes here and there, and regrettably I found some of the characters rather thinly drawn. Danilov himself I thought deserved much more of a backstory, which, when it came, was a bit late on in the plot and consequently lacking in impact.
The writing, in my opinion, is passable for a quick and fun read, however failed in immersing me as thoroughly into the setting as I would have hoped. The dialogue between characters - some little more than caricatures - was at times a bit campy, making the exchanges feel slightly wooden and overly contrived.
Certain sections of the book are written from the killer's perspective, which was an interesting touch, while the murders themselves, and indeed most of the violence is rather brutal, even excessive at times. Although I suppose in fairness, serial killers aren't generally known for their restraint. I also quite enjoyed the nods to traditional folklore and local customs, the author himself clearly very familiar with the ground he covers.
A light read, a fun little jaunt through historic Shanghai on the hunt for a sadistic madman. I was hoping for a bit more in terms of the wondrous setting being brought to life, but still, entertaining enough.
3.0 / 5.0