As tensions simmer in Shanghai, children go missing…
Shanghai 1932: Inspector Danilov hasn’t recovered from the death of his child… but across a Shanghai riven with communal tensions, children are going missing.
Missing, and then murdered. Who is responsible? Why have the children’s bodies been exhibited for all to see?
Just as Danilov thinks the stakes couldn’t be higher there is a new dimension, Japan, a rising power flexing its muscles. In fractious Shanghai, an explosion is long overdue. With the clock ticking can Danilov and his assistant Strachan solve the case? The fate of Shanghai may be at stake. So is Danilov’s job… And his sanity.
The latest instalment of the Inspector Danilov mysteries will leave you breathless. Perfect for fans of Philip Kerr or Rory Clements.
Links to Book:
EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK!!
15 January 1932
The 334th Day of the Year of the Golden Goat
Inspector Danilov tamped the half-finished cigarette against the granite wall of the morgue, putting the dimp in his left-hand overcoat pocket. He no longer threw these fag ends away, either saving them for later or giving them to the beggars who lined the streets of Shanghai. Even more beggars these days, their ranks swelled by refugees from the fighting with the Japanese in the north of China.
The cigarette had not removed the sweet taste of the opium he had smoked last night. It never did.
‘Come on, Strachan, we’d better face our nemesis.’
The detective sergeant took off his trilby and smoothed back his brilliantined black hair. ‘Nemesis, sir?’
‘Greek mythology. The goddess who enacted retribution against those who succumb to pride.’
‘Is that how you think of Dr Fang, sir?’
‘It’s the only way to think of him. One day we will all end up on his steel table, a Y-shaped incision carved into our chests.’
‘Not much to look forward to, sir.’
Danilov pushed open the heavy wooden doors of the mortuary. He had told Strachan many times not to call him ‘sir’, but the Chinese side of his detective sergeant had found it difficult to obey, deference to one’s seniors being ingrained from an early age: ‘It’s all the fault of Confucius, sir, you should blame him.’
‘And when did you start brilliantining your hair?’
‘It’s the latest fashion, sir. All the rage. Elina bought me a small tub of Brylcreem.’
‘So it’s my daughter’s fault, is it, Strachan?’
‘My nemesis, sir.’
The spotless interior of the mortuary greeted them. White walls, a polished wooden floor, an unmanned reception desk guarding the entrance to Dr Fang’s inner sanctum, where he devoured the bodies of the dead.
A shiver ran down the inspector’s spine wearing hob-nailed boots. Danilov hated this place, its pristine cleanliness an affront to the dirt, dust and decay that was the norm for Shanghai. Outside, everything was chaotic and crazy, whereas here, all was quiet and ordered.
The silence of death.
The door behind the reception desk opened and Dr Fang stood there beckoning them forward. ‘You’re late, and I have three more clients to examine before dinner. So many refugees on the streets can’t survive the cold weather. Come along, look sharp.’
The voice was definitely English: educated, patrician, arrogant, confident. Beneath the white coat, a red polka-dot bow tie stood out against an elegantly cut green tweed suit and stiff white collar.
The pathologist looked at them both over the top of his glasses. ‘Danilov, it’s you again. I shall have to arrange a bed for you if you spend any more time here.’ The voice was warmer now, friendlier.
‘On one of the post-mortem tables?’
‘Of course not, Detective Sergeant Strachan. Those are reserved for my clients. Why would I waste a table on Inspector Danilov?’
‘It was a joke, sir.’
‘Save the jokes for the mess, Detective Sergeant. This is a morgue, not the music hall.’
Dr Fang closed the door. Six shiny aluminium tables in two rows of three lay in front of them, each with a body-shaped mound covered by a white sheet.
‘How’s the voice, Strachan?’
‘Still the same, Dr Fang.’
The pathologist reached out and lifted Strachan’s chin to reveal the Adam’s apple with its prominent red scar in the centre. ‘I should have made the incision smaller, you know. Not my best work.’
Four years ago, Dr Fang had saved Strachan’s life by performing an emergency tracheotomy.
‘Excellent news about the voice, though. The depth adds a certain gravitas to your demeanour. Useful in a man of your profession, I should think.’
Danilov coughed. ‘If we could begin the autopsy, Dr Fang… ’
The pathologist pushed his glasses back up to the non-existent bridge of his nose. ‘Of course, Inspector,’ He hurried over to the middle table on the top row, picking up his notes from their place on the white sheet.
‘Now, let me see. Yes, I remember this, a most interesting case. Brought in last night. But you’re not down as the investigating officer, Danilov.’
‘It’s Inspector Sheehan’s case, but he’s been called away to the Volunteers. Short notice.’
‘More problems with the Japanese?’
Danilov shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know and he didn’t care. Politics was none of his concern; he’d had enough in Russia. He just investigated murders, and there were enough of those in Shanghai to keep any copper busy for years. But unfortunately, politics had a habit of creeping into everything, even murder.
Dr Fang took the hint. ‘Let’s proceed, shall we?’ With the practised legerdemain of an accomplished magician, he lifted the white sheet into the air to reveal the body displayed on the table.
Danilov stared at the young corpse lying on the cold steel: grey, stiff, lifeless.
‘A young male, approximately thirteen years of age. No name, so we shall call him John Doe for the present.’
Danilov didn’t hear the doctor’s words. The young boy’s eyes were open, staring out into a world he would never see again.
‘Chinese ethnicity, I would say, not Japanese or Korean. And from the overall lack of pigment in the skin, a boy who had not spent much time outside in the sun.
Beneath the open eyes, the face had been slashed across the cheeks and nose, the raised ridges of the cuts opening out to show pale pink meat and the white of the jawbone. Danilov counted the slashes. Seven in total, each one deep and slicing, carved into the young face.
‘If you look at the hands, you will see a lack of calluses or abrasions. These are a scholar’s hands, not those of a worker.’ Dr Fang raised and twisted the arms to show the soft underside of the palms. ‘See here, Inspector… Inspector.’
Danilov dragged his eyes away from the young boy’s mutilated face.
‘The hands haven’t seen hard work at all. But there is a black ink stain on the right index finger. A scholar, I think.’
‘I understand, Dr Fang. Strachan, we need to check the missing persons register. And while you’re at it, ring round the local schools, see if anybody has been reported absent.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Strachan wrote in his notebook.
Danilov found his eyes returning to the boy’s face. This lad was the same age as Ivan, perhaps a bit younger. The same innocence of a life wasted. The image returned of his son’s open casket, the stench of incense, the wailing of his wife, the chanting of the priests, the smoke rising slowly in the cold air of the Orthodox church, illuminated by shafts of multicoloured light from the stained-glass windows.
He shook his head to try to clear it. Mustn’t go there. Not now, not here. ‘The slash marks on his face… ?’ he heard himself saying.
‘Those? Most interesting.’ Dr Fang shifted his body to peer into the face of the young boy. His hand came up and touched the skin, widening one of the slashes so the meat and bone became visible. ‘Deep and deliberate, I would say, performed with a sharp instrument. This boy wasn’t stabbed but sliced across the face slowly.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
M J Lee 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 advertising awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and the United Nations.
While working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarters of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practising downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake, and wishing he were George Clooney.
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