Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review of Death in Shanghai by MJ Lee (HQ, 2017)

Shanghai, 1928. Detective Inspector Danilov, a Russian émigré, and Detective Constable Strachan, a half-Chinese novice who’s father was a Scottish police officer, are tasked with finding the killer of a blonde woman found on a sandbank in the international settlement at the heart of the city. A Chinese character is carved into her skin. Danilov starts to piece together clues, but the killer strikes again quickly, and the pressure from his superiors for a quick result mount. He is not aided by rivalry in the detective squad and struggles to keep up with a killer driven to dispense their own kind of justice. Nonetheless, Danilov and Strachan are determined to put a stop to the murders, or become victims trying.

Death in Shanghai is the first in the Danilov series set in Shanghai in the 1920s. It’s a serial killer by numbers affair, with Inspector Danilov playing Sherlock Holmes (including the close observational detecting and opium addiction), Constable Strachan playing Dr Watson, and the killer playing Moriarty. Danilov is not well liked by his colleagues, who undermine his investigation, and he is still searching for news of his family marooned in Minsk during the Russian revolution. The plot is fairly predictable, the prose is workmanlike, and the sense of place flat, a number of elements with respect to the murders and the police work do not seem to add up, and the epilogue seemed highly unlikely. It’s by no means a terrible read, and there’s plenty of action and twists and turns, rather it felt flat with stereotypical characters and a formulaic plot that failed to captivate.

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