Book review: City Of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled The Underworld Of Old Shanghai

19 Dec 2018 / 11:00 H.

SET in Shanghai in the 1930s, author Paul French tells the real-life story of two men from very different backgrounds who came together to build and run the biggest casino and nightclub in the city.

‘Lucky’ Jack Riley is a killer, escaped convict and army deserter, while the dapper Joe Farren is a Jewish immigrant from Austria.

Neither could go home or leave Shanghai (as they did not have passports) and essentially made a new life for themselves in the city which was filled with expatriates, diplomats, military personnel and wealthy Chinese.

While Farren was a showbiz guy who enjoyed the stage, Riley was a brutal man who is no stranger to violence.

Both create a niche for themselves in the thriving cultural scene in Shanghai back then.

Essentially they needed each other for survival and when the Japanese army invaded China, they kept the party going mostly due to necessity.

It is a riveting story, and French also writes a lot about the culture and political history of the time.

The author opened our eyes to life in a bygone era with the murder mystery Midnight In Peking, and does so again with this one.

How these real-life men became who they were, and how they thrived in a city like Shanghai in the 1930s, is something any fans of crime and history will be drawn to.

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