Midnight in Peking by Paul French is one of my favorite books – a gripping and suspense-filled read. While based in Shanghai (2010-2012…very much a griffin) I seriously wished I could attend his talk/book launch sessions. It didn’t happen.

I was spending majority my time in Shanghai Municipal Archives where I did bump into Peter Hibbard once.. we were seated next to each other, poring over the spools of Old Shanghai history in microfilms. I doubt if he remembers me though.

City of Devils (I am not going to give a synopsis: if you want one, read it here on goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36023034-city-of-devils) in my honest opinion needs to be savored slowly: soaking in one chapter at a time. Only then the build-up, the cabaret & wheeling-dealing atmosphere of Old Shanghai, the inevitable downward spiral of a city and the doomed foreigners …  all come together and make it a delightful read.

But, before you start reading the very finely-crafted and brilliantly researched book , familiarize yourself with Old Shanghai history, especially when the badlands, casinos were in full swing.  Otherwise you may feel slightly overwhelmed. This book is not for the weaklings.

I met Paul at the Singapore Writer’s Festival in November this year. It took me this long to finish this book simply because I did not want to rush through and lose the flavor of Old Shanghai that Paul French meticulously recreates giving us, the readers, the feel for the era, the chorus lines, the gambling dens, the language – filled with racial slurs of that time and intermix of accents and foreign words.He does provide a very useful glossary at the end of the book & that did come in very handy! Also, some wonderful photographs.

Unlike Sikh history in Old Shanghai where it’s quite an impossible feat to match a name with a photograph (unless a family member provides information).

Old Shanghai is sometimes referred to the ‘Chicago of the East’ for the badlands, the prostitution and non-stop crime and corruption that once existed in the windy city as well.

The story is about two men in Old Shanghai:, Jack Riley and Joe Farren and how their business partnership flourished and floundered and how all “good” things do come to an end.

The only question I have is regarding Joe Farren’s (spoiler ahead) death. In the book, Paul French writes on the Japanese torture that may have ended Farren’s life which is highly plausible but John B Powell in his book, “My Twenty-five years in China” writes that Farren committed suicide (in Bridge House Political Prison) by hanging himself from one of the the bars of his cell.

So, which is it? Torture or suicide (could be because of the horrifying torture?) ?  I am inclined to think torture but one can’t discount Powell’s words who was in China at this time….


A must read.