In the middle of Soochow Creek is a sandbank known by the locals as “The Beach of Dead Babies”. On a bright, cold Shanghai morning, there were no dead babies lying on it, just a dead blonde.
Inspector Danilov stamped his feet on the cobblestones of the bank, trying to force some life into his cold toes. He pulled his old coat around his thin body and searched its pockets for his tobacco tin. Blowing some warm air on his fingers, he opened the tin and rolled a cigarette with one hand. The first breaths of smoke choked his lungs, producing a series of deep, barking coughs like the alarm cries of a deer. A spit of black tar filled his mouth, the remains of the opium he had smoked the night before. He spat it out and watched it land in the mud at the edge of the creek before it was swallowed by the lapping, grey waters.
His colleague, Charles Meaker, the District Inspector from Hongkew, walked to the middle of Zhapu Bridge, scanning the area as if getting his bearings. At the centre of the bridge, Meaker located the position of the blonde stretched out on the sandbank. From a pocket, he produced a linen measuring tape and laid this along the stone parapet of the bridge.
After an age of measuring, a smug smile spread across his pale face. ‘I believe it’s one of yours. It’s on your side,’ he shouted. Then rolled up the measuring tape and put it back inside his jacket pocket, taking the opportunity to hitch his trousers over his large stomach.
He strolled over to Danilov on the city side of the bridge. ‘Floaters are always a nightmare. Hate ‘em meself. Looks like this one topped hersel’ upstream, and the body floated down. Enjoy it.’ He tugged at his moustache. ‘Another chance to enhance your reputation.’
Danilov took a long drag of his cigarette, savouring the bitter tang of the tobacco. ‘Thank you, Inspector Meaker, have you finished?’ He turned back looking for his new constable in the large crowd that now lined the banks. ‘Stra-chan, come here will you?’
‘It’s Straw-aaan,’ said Meaker, the “ch” is silent. But you Russians wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?’
The young detective ran up. ‘Yes, sir?’ He had a shock of black hair, an eager smile and eyes that gave away he was half-Chinese.
‘Stra-chan,’ Inspector Danilov emphasised, ‘go down to the sampans and check if anybody saw anything.’
‘Good luck with that. Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. Just do evil. That’s what this lot believe.’ Meaker mimed the actions of the three monkeys ending with an expansive gesture that took in all the watching Chinese.
Inspector Danilov ignored him. ‘Go and check them anyway. Somebody may have seen something.’ Strachan began to turn away. ‘Don’t forget to send a man to the pathologist. The morgue is just across Garden Bridge on the other side of the river. Let Dr. Fang know there’s a body coming in.’
‘Yes, sir, anything else, sir?’ Strachan stood to attention awaiting his orders. He was new to the detective squad, and this was his first case.
‘Hurry up, we haven’t got all day,’ said Danilov. ‘The feet feed the wolf, as we say in Minsk.’
‘Er…yes, sir, right away.’
‘I’m off back to Hongkew for a nice cuppa. Good luck with the floater, Danilov, rather you than me, heh?’ With a long, pipe-stained chuckle, Meaker twisted his moustache and walked back across the bridge to his own district.
Shanghai, 1928. The body of a blonde is washed up on the Beach of Dead Babies, in the heart of the smog-filled city. Seemingly a suicide, a closer inspection reveals a darker motive: the corpse has been weighed down, it’s lower half mutilated…and the Chinese character for ‘justice’ carved into the chest.
The moment Inspector Danilov lays eyes on the dismembered body, he realises that he has an exceptional case on his hands. And when the first body is followed by another, and another, each displaying a new, bloody message, he has no option but face the truth. He is dealing with the worst kind of criminal; someone determined, twisted…and vengeful.
Someone who must be caught….whatever the cost.
Death in Shanghai is the first novel in M J Lee’s Inspector Danilov series, perfect for fans of Philip Kerr.
About the author
Martin has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, tv commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the North of England. In London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations.
Whilst working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarter of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in 1920s and 30s.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practicing downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney.