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City of Devils: A Shanghai Noir

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  750 ratings  ·  137 reviews

'A fascinating tale of life and death in a city on the brink of all-out war' Time, on Midnight in Peking

'He resurrects a period that was filled with glitter as well as evil, but was never, as readers will appreciate, known for being dull' Economist , on Midnight in Peking

1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In

Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published June 28th 2018 by riverrun (first published May 14th 2018)
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Jeff It's meticulously researched nonfiction written in the style of a noir novel. …moreIt's meticulously researched nonfiction written in the style of a noir novel. (less)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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Katie B
It's the 1930s and 40s and Jack Riley and “Dapper” Joe Farren are big players in Shanghai's seedy underworld. American Jack Riley escaped prison and came to Shanghai and now runs a gambling empire. “Dapper” Joe Farren, originally from Vienna, finds his way to Shanghai with dancing and romantic partner, Nellie, and eventually rules the nightclubs. But it's hard to remain on top especially when you live a life of crime and people are looking to bring you down.

So while the book certainly focused o
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is often commented by readers that they wish to be able to read a true crime story as easily as they can a crime fiction one, Paul French has accomplished that in my eyes. This was an endlessly compelling tale and proves that it's true what they say - the truth certainly is stranger than fiction! I haven't come across French before despite being a lover of true crime but I am already looking to acquire his other books.

This is a meticulously researched narrative and it shows throughout the bo
Jill Hutchinson
When I think of "sinful cities" of the Far East during the time leading up to WWII, the city of Macao comes to mind....but it appears that Shanghai might take the prize. After the Opium War, the city became what was called a "treaty port" or "settlement" and was divided into the English, French, and American neighborhoods which were ruled by those countries Just outside of those boundaries was an area called the Bad Lands which lived up to its name. It was rife with gambling, dope, prostitution ...more
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating account of Shanghai and, in particular, the International Settlement within the city, which, effectively, governed itself. Shanghai was a prize, won after victory in an opium war. As such, it grew up differently to the country around it and, by the 1930’s, was the fifth largest city in the world. It was also a haven for those who found themselves in a world, politically and economically, in flux. With the International Settlement an independent city, within a city, it admit ...more
Historical fiction set in the Shanghai demimonde between the 1930’s and fall of the city to the Japanese during WWII.

The famous Shanghai Bund

My dead pixels, format, book was a modest 325-pages which included appendices and a glossary. It had a US 2018 copyright.

Paul French is a British journalist and author. He is the author of eight (8) books on eastern Asia. This was the first book I’ve read by the author.

Firstly, this book was listed as non-fiction. In the book’s Preface, the author states
I am pretty bummed about the death of one of my cinematic heroes, Burt Reynolds. Still, I wanted to finish this review and post it as I had finished reading this book several weeks ago.

Paul French’s City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai makes a case that history books are not just something you give to Dad on Father’s Day. They might be informative, and they might even be entertaining! And while City of Devils is not as entertaining as say an outlaw car race starti
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom opens in 1935 at a club in the city of Shanghai. Jones is going to met a gangster, and, of course, the shit hits the fan. It is a Hollywood version of what Shanghai was like during the interwar years. Yet, there is some truth to it. The city did have Badlands, and there were clubs that not only hired but catered to expatriates from America and Europe. In his book City of Devils, Paul French presents the truth and while it does in
Jun 23, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I feel pretty bad about giving this one star but I'm afraid I abandoned it fifty pages in, so it seems the only possible rating I can give. I loved French's Midnight in Peking and expected to enjoy this just as much. Unfortunately French has decided to write this in present tense, which I always dislike, and in a kind of contemporaneous language, trying to capture the slang, idioms and rhythms of the way (we assume) people spoke at the time. I fear it simply doesn't work for me. He warns in adva ...more
An interesting subject matter which was let down by a lack of depth and the author's tendency to gloss over crucial events in Jack Riley and Joe Farren's criminal history.

1930's Shanghai was a frontier town, rapidly expanding in both population, city limits, and crime. Drugs, murder and mayhem were the main courses on the menu with a couple of unassuming characters in Riley and Farren taking full advantage of the low lying fruit begging to be plucked and exploited.

City of Devils chronicles Ril
Kathryn in FL
Paul French is an amazing writer and he has the awards to prove it. He has compiled a tremendous amount of information into "City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai" which follows a twenty year period in the life of Jack Riley and Joe Farren from the 1930's to the 1940's. At times they worked together and often they opposed each other as they managed to run every kind of illegal activity known to man in Shanghai and also smuggled huge quantities of opium into the U.S ...more
Margaret Sankey
French reconstructs the heyday of vice in 1930s Shanghai, led by two outsized characters--a Viennese Jew who rose from gigolo and dancehall expositions to run a classy casino, and a veteran American sailor-brawler-goon whose ability to import slot machines and intimidate allowed him to command huge influence in the Shanghai underworld. While taipan families slummed and White Russian refugees from 1917 scrambled to survive on prostitution and menial labor, Nationalist government officers enjoyed ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Paul French is back with a page-turner narrative non-fiction about the fascinating underbelly of Shanghai society as the Japanese invade and war looms. People from everywhere with nowhere to go, drugs, drinkers, gambling, dog racing, womanizing, cold blooded murder, shifty journalists, sex workers, profiteering mafia, the bumbling Shanghai police, socialites, Jazz men and the shadiest of military men... everyone’s here and out to make a million. And at the centre of it all are the dance impresar ...more
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
I really did not know that much about China just before World War II. Therefore, in addition to being a book for true crime junkies, it also paints a pretty horrid picture of the Japanese invasion, something I was aware of, but did not have many details.

Shanghai was one of those strange city-states which was occupied by neutral foreigners and somewhat immune to all that happened around it (somewhat like Berlin before the wall came down). It was a place of last resort for White Russians, European
Jenee Rager
This is definitely an interesting read, and tells a part of history that I was completely unfamiliar with. The story tells about the rise and fall of Joe Farren, and "Lucky" Jack Riley in the Shanghai underworld throughout the 1930's and 1940's. I really enjoyed their stories, but there were parts of the books that I felt got weighed down in minute detail and distracted from the flow of reading.

Thank you to goodreads for the opportunity to review this book.
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
Has all you expect of a good noir story...until you remember/realize this is nonfiction which kind of makes it wilder. French does a fantastic job of structuring the interconnected stories of Jack Riley and Joe Farren as well as bringing to life the unique world of 1930's Shanghai and the various characters and powers at work onto the page. To be honest, I don't know where to begin with the world he deacribes. ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Think of Thomas Hardy and wessex, Anthony Trollope and Barsetshire - and then think of Paul French and China in the years leading up to WWII. Some authors can plough the same literary field endlessly and always produce something good, but alas, French has run out of steam here. His Midnight in Peking was utterly brilliant; his second book of stories a wonderful addendum to the first; but this is way under par.
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-books, history
Slow start but definitely picks up. However, no citations or sources.
Halley Sutton
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing to read this while en route to, and in, Shanghai. I love what French does here--adopts a novelistic, hardboiled voice to tell a true crime story (and tell it very well). Consistently impressed with his writing and storytelling.
Bob Schnell
Shanghai of the 1930's sounds like it was a swingin' town. Paul French's book "City of Devils" concentrates on two ex-pat Americans who found success in the busy, international port city. Gambling, drugs, prostitution and murder were all part of the scene set to the rhythm of American jazz. Much of this story was new to me, but if you put moved Rick's Cafe from Casablanca to Shanghai, you get the idea. Recommended for those with an interest for the seedier side of history. ...more
Maran Subramaniam
Jack Riley and Joe Farren were both born thousands of miles apart. Jack was from the US of A, later to be honorably discharged from the Navy only to eventually make some wrong decisions in life that leads him to a stint in prison, while Joe being a talented dancer of Jewish origins, fled the ghettos of Vienna with dreams of making it big somehow, somewhere. Both ended up in the same Asian city, with Jack, (using his street-smart cunningness) gravitating towards earning easy living by running slo ...more
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
During the years between world wars Shanghai, China was an internationally recognized port city, divided into distinct neighborhoods. While expatriate Europeans and Americans raked in cash from syndicated criminal activities, native Chinese lived in penury. Opium was the drug of choice and thousands were addicted. Two prominent gangsters dominated the rackets; both with somewhat mysterious origins. (Shanghai was an ideal place to assume a new identity.) Depending on the vagaries of the drug trad ...more
Jeanne Nichols
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lucy Meeker
Very interesting, compelling. Great story telling....true crime, can't put down!! What can I say--everybody needs a little true crime now and then. Or at least I do. Good and fast read. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys these types of books. I received a free copy of this book in a goodreads giveaway. ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose.
Anything goes.

Shanghai Chorus Girls

Paul French's City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai brings us a touch of the bawdy magic that the chorus girls exude in the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It delivers a healthy dollop of Nucky Thompson's crimi
The Book Grocer
Purchase City of Devils here for just $12!

A fascinating story that is hard to believe is real and actually happened! French has done such a great job intertwining the stories of the two men featured, impressive storytelling.

Brooke - The Book Grocer
Jenni Link
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shanghai between the two World Wars was stranger than fiction: mix together Capone's Chicago, 20s Berlin, a bit of New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Casablanca, and place the result in East Asia. Philippino jazz musicians shared the nightclub floor with White Russian taxi dancers, millionaire British bankers, Chinese opium kingpins, and slot machines smuggled in by American ex-cons. This is an incredibly fascinating tale and a real page turner, but French's writing style is really distracting. He deci ...more
Lexie Lucas
Aug 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I received this book as part of a goodread's giveaway and am posting my review after finally getting to this book.

A deep delve into Joe and Jack Riley's personal and professional lives, detailing their struggle and rise to the top amidst their colorful forays with women, fellow outlaws, drugs, and violence. French really paints a picture of the era, detailing the inner sanctums and bars of the elite gamblers they serviced while also painting a grim picture of the escalating war and drug scene co
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love historical novels.
This one was very interesting as it told about a country during war time and the goings on that can only be compared to Chicago during prohibition.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the criminal element in Shanghai Settlement between the World Wars - and a whole lot more you could have done well without.

While the story is quite interesting; it could have been fascinating, had the author not tried to include every historical fact, drop every name, and include every intrigue in the 23 years it covers. Too much trivia.
Tracy Griffin
I read the book. I try to other edition. I cannot find the hardcover edition.
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Paul French is the Chief China Representative of Access Asia, a market research and business intelligence company specialising in China and North Asia's economics and markets. He was educated in London and at the University of Glasgow. He is the co-author of One Billion Shoppers - Accessing Asia's Consuming Passions (1998) and author of Carl Crow - A Tough Old China Hand: The Life, Times, and Adve ...more

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If we need a paperweight, we're grabbing a hardcover. Otherwise, we're big fans of paperbacks. They're the lighter, less expensive option—the...
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“Little Nicky heads to the Badlands to see the show for himself. The Western Roads are outside his remit as a U.S. Treasury agent, but he knows the men he wants are its denizens. Standing on the corner of the Great Western and Edinburgh Roads, a sideshow, a carnival of the doped, the beaten, and the crazed. He walks round to the Avenue Haig strip and encounters the playground of Shanghai’s crackpots, cranks, gondoos, and lunatics. He’s accosted constantly: casino touts, hustling pimps, dope dealers; monkeys on chains, dancing dogs, kids turning tumbles, Chinese ‘look see’ boys offering to watch your car. Their numbers rise as the Japs turn the screws on Shanghai ever tighter. Half-crazy American missionaries try to sell him Bibles printed on rice paper—saving souls in the Badlands is one tough beat. The Chinese hawkers do no better with their porno cards of naked dyed blondes, Disney characters in lewd poses, and bare-arsed Chinese girls, all underage. Barkers for the strip shows and porno flicks up the alleyways guarantee genuine French celluloid of the filthiest kind. Beggars abound, near the dealers and bootleggers in the shadows, selling fake heroin pills and bootleg samogon Russian vodka, distilled in alleyways, that just might leave you blind. Off the Avenue Haig, Nicky, making sure of his gun in its shoulder holster, ventures up the side streets and narrow laneways that buzz with the purveyors of cure-all tonics, hawkers of appetite suppressants, male pick-me-ups promising endless virility. Everything is for sale—back-street abortions and unwanted baby girls alongside corn and callus removers, street barbers, and earwax pickers. The stalls of the letter writers for the illiterate are next to the sellers of pills to cure opium addiction. He sees desperate refugees offered spurious Nansen passports, dubious visas for neutral Macao, well-forged letters of transit for Brazil. He could have his fortune told twenty times over (gypsy tarot cards or Chinese bone chuckers? Your choice). He could eat his fill—grilled meat and rice stalls—or he could start a whole new life: end-of-the-worlders and Korean propagandists offer cheap land in Mongolia and Manchukuo.” 1 likes
“Shanghai is a bastard son of a city, an offspring nobody wants until it has something worth taking.” 0 likes
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