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The Master of Rain by Tom Bradby
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The Master of Rain (2002)

by Tom Bradby

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I started The Master of Rain by Tom Bradby a few weeks ago expecting a good noir-style mystery set in an exotic place. I got so much more. The Master of Rain does read like it could be filmed in black and white; it's filled with men in suits wearing fedoras and smoking, there's a beautiful woman with secrets and a hero feeling his way through treachery and intrigue, but at heart it's a dense historic novel.

It took me only a few pages in to realize how very little I knew about Shanghai in the 1920s. It was a big Chinese city, but at the centre lay an area controlled by American and British Commercial interests, called the International Settlement, bordered on one side by the French Settlement and surrounded by a China in turmoil as Mao's forces destabilize the country and leave plenty of room for criminal forces to take control of the Chinese parts of Shanghai. The city is also flooded with Russian refugees in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

Into this comes Field, a Yorkshireman hired as a policeman and assigned to the special forces, that is, to the political branch of the police. Immediately, he is called out, with an American cop, to the scene of a murder; a Russian woman found brutally slain in an apartment block owned by the Chinese mob boss who controls much of the city. And so begins a fast-paced and complex story that swings from the upper echelons of expat society to the desperate world of emigre Russians trying to survive in a hostile city. ( )
1 vote RidgewayGirl | Oct 6, 2010 |
Idealism meets pragmatism in Bradby's literate historical mystery, and the confrontation ends in a tie. Richard Field, an ambitious and idealistic newly-minted officer appointed to the international police in Shanghai in 1926, has to battle both the demons of his past and barely suppressed anger at the wrongs in the world to help find the sadistic killer of a young Russian woman working as a prostitute.

Shanghai is supposedly controlled by international colonizing forces, but it's a Chinese warlord who really holds the power, through opium, bribes, and prostitution in a city where corruption is the norm, communism is encroaching, and nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. When Field falls for the victim's friend, a Russian woman in as much peril as the dead girl, he's drawn deeper and deeper into a maelstrom of lies and deceit. A serial killer seems to be working in the city, someone who likely is being protected by the warlord, if not the warlord, himself.

Bradby has researched his subject (I now want to know more about the time period in China -- my history classes are too far in the past!) and writes in a flowing, literary style that really pulled me in and made me feel as if I were there, across the globe, all those years ago. I hope to read more by this author; I already have his The White Russian here waiting for me. ( )
1 vote ShellyS | Sep 18, 2008 |
I did not like this book. I wanted to know what would happen so I kept reading, but I might as well have skipped to the end and put myself out of my misery. The quality of the writing was poor (especially the dialogue) and the storyline disappointing. ( )
  circlesreads | Sep 5, 2008 |
British police officer investigates murder of a Russian prostitute while falling in love with another. Chinese gangsters. ( )
  picardyrose | Jul 20, 2008 |
Into the impenetrable and multi-layered society of 1926 Shanghai comes a newly employed and incorruptible police officer, Michael Field. British, like many of the Shanghai police, he shares the same hopes as many émigrés - to rebuild his life in a distant land. Unlike most, he wants to rebuild his life pure and clean. But he finds himself immediately plunged into a whirlpool of conflict: police officers who vie with each other more than with criminals; rich, untouchable businessmen; all-powerful Chinese gangsters; impoverished Russian princesses (there's more than one!) who are now reduced to smuggling and prostitution.
Investigating the sickening murder of one such prostitute, Field falls for another - the ravishing six foot tall Natasha Medvedev. But is she a prostitute? Is she in peril? Could she be a villain? As Field threshes in the Chinese maelstrom he can trust no one, understand little and resolve even less. But he is an honourable man, perhaps the only one in Shanghai. Against vast opposition what difference can he make?
In the long run I struggled to finish this. It was recommended on the 4MA list as evocative of another culture but by the end I was finding the plotting too convoluted, to long-winded, and the book literally too heavy (550 pages in hard-back, big print). ( )
1 vote smik | Jun 2, 2007 |
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Field felt like a lobster being brought slowly to the boil.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375713336, Paperback)

Tom Bradby's third novel (though his first to be published in the U.S.) is a feverish work of historical noir, a labyrinthine thriller set in a vicious world where everyone--as in Bogart's Casablanca--has a reason for hiding. The year is 1926; the city is Shanghai, a swamp of organized crime, corruption, turf wars between British intelligence and street-level law enforcement, Communist sympathizers, and East European refugees from Bolshevik atrocities. Into this sweltering, cutthroat port city steps Richard Field, an idealistic policeman from Yorkshire looking to distance himself from a painful past. Ill-suited to Shanghai's heat and shocking violence, Field nevertheless throws himself into investigating the grisly murder of a Russian prostitute, the latest in a line of dead women who lived in the orbit of a powerful Chinese mobster. Slowed by official roadblocks, Field learns that the only man in his department he can trust is a tough Chicago detective, Caprisi, a touchstone of sanity even as Field loses his rookie head over another doomed Russian call girl.

Bradby, a seasoned correspondent for Britain's ITN television network, has obviously spent considerable time researching 1920s Shanghai. His feel for the city's Byzantine society and exotic textures is matched by his accessible vision of Shanghai as a junction of international fallout and internal intrigue. Less compelling, if not outright distracting, is Bradby's more contemporary emphasis on ghastly serial killings with a sex-crime edge. But in the end, the book's remarkable prose and density of experience are uniquely rewarding. --Tom Keogh

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:52 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"For Richard Field, a young Englishman new to the international police force, Shanghai represents a brave new world away from the past he is trying to escape. But his naivete is quickly dashed when he is called to the scene of a brutal crime, in which a young Russian woman, Lena Orlov, has been found sadistically murdered in her bed. Field's idealistic instincts push him to investigate the case, but his attempts are met with apathy - then menace - from his colleagues. He beings to recognize that some cases in Shanghai are intended to remain unsolved, and, in a matter of days, he glimpses the murky depths that lurk beneath a luminous city." "Field's drive to find the murderer leads him to Lena's neighbor, Natasha Medvedev. A stunning beauty who fled her charmed life in tsarist Russia, Natasha escaped the Revolution but landed, like many of her counterparts, in a treacherous life in Shanghai. Natasha travels in an elite circle - one that orbits, Field knows, around the city's most feared drug lord, Lu Huang. As Field's attraction to the beguiling Natasha grows, he is faced with a piercing question: Can he trust someone whose only goal is self-preservation? And is it wise to fall in love with a woman who may herself be the next victim?" "Trusting only his Chicago-hardened American partner, Caprisi, Field follows leads that run into the heart of a lawlessly corrupt city, slowly uncovering a web of deception that will leave him reeling."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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