Death In Shanghai

BOOK: Death In Shanghai
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Shanghai, 1928.
The body of a blonde is washed up on the Beach of Dead Babies, in the heart of the smog-filled city. Seemingly a suicide, a closer inspection reveals a darker motive: the corpse has been weighed down, its lower half mutilated…and the Chinese character for ‘justice’ carved into its chest.

The moment Inspector Danilov lays eyes on the dismembered body, he realises that he has an exceptional case on his hands. And when the first body is followed by another, and another, each displaying a new, bloody message, he has no option but face the truth. He is dealing with the worst kind of criminal; someone determined, twisted…and vengeful. Someone who must be caught….whatever the cost.

Death in Shanghai is the first novel in M J Lee’s Inspector Danilov series, perfect for fans of Philip Kerr.

Death in Shanghai

An Inspector Danilov Thriller

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 obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote reams of 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.

It was whilst working in Shanghai that he developed the idea behind a series of crime novels, featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.
Death in Shanghai
is the first in that series.

To my editor, Clio Cornish, thank you for being so enthusiastic and passionate about the idea of a Russian detective in the Shanghai of the 1920s. To the people of Shanghai, thank you for a wonderful two years in your amazing city. To my wife, Sharon, thank you for making this possible. To my daughter, Eve, thank you for making this impossible. To everybody else, I hope you enjoyed reading the adventures of Inspector Danilov. Find out more at

For my mother, Margaret Lee.




Title Page

Author Bio



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37




February 22nd 1928.

The 31st day of the Year of the Earth Dragon.

Chapter 1

In the middle of Soochow Creek is a sandbank known by the locals as ‘the Beach of Dead Babies’. On a bright, cold Shanghai morning, there were no dead babies lying on it, just a dead blonde.

Inspector Danilov stamped his feet on the cobblestones of the bank, trying to force some life into his cold toes. He pulled his old coat around his thin body and searched its pockets for his tobacco tin. Blowing some warm air on his fingers, he opened the tin and rolled a cigarette with one hand. The first breaths of smoke choked his lungs, producing a series of deep, barking coughs like the alarm cries of a deer. A spit of black tar filled his mouth, the remains of the opium he had smoked the night before. He spat it out and watched it land in the mud at the edge of the creek before it was swallowed by the lapping, grey waters.

His colleague, Charles Meaker, the District Inspector from Hongkew, walked to the middle of Zhapu Bridge, scanning the area as if getting his bearings. At the centre of the bridge, Meaker located the position of the blonde stretched out on the sandbank. From a pocket, he produced a linen measuring tape and laid this along the stone parapet of the bridge.

After an age of measuring, a smug smile spread across his pale face. ‘I believe it’s one of yours. It’s on your side,’ he shouted. Then he rolled up the measuring tape and put it back inside his jacket pocket, taking the opportunity to hitch his trousers over his large stomach.

He strolled over to Danilov on the city side of the bridge. ‘Floaters are always a nightmare. Hate ’em meself. Looks like this one topped hersel’ upstream, and the body floated down. Enjoy it.’ He tugged at his moustache. ‘Another chance to enhance your reputation.’

Danilov took a long drag of his cigarette, savouring the bitter tang of the tobacco. ‘Thank you, Inspector Meaker, have you finished?’ He turned back looking for his new constable in the large crowd that now lined the banks. ‘Stra-chan, come here will you?’

‘It’s Straw-aaan,’ said Meaker, the “ch” is silent. But you Russians wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?’

The young detective ran up. ‘Yes, sir?’ He had a shock of black hair, an eager smile and eyes that gave away he was half Chinese.

‘Stra-chan,’ Inspector Danilov emphasised, ‘go down to the sampans and check if anybody saw anything.’

‘Good luck with that. Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. Just do evil. That’s what this lot believe.’ Meaker mimed the actions of the three monkeys ending with an expansive gesture that took in all the watching Chinese.

Inspector Danilov ignored him. ‘Go and check them anyway. Somebody may have seen something.’ Strachan began to turn away. ‘Don’t forget to send a man to the pathologist. The morgue is just across Garden Bridge on the other side of the river. Let Dr Fang know there’s a body coming in.’

‘Yes, sir, anything else, sir?’ Strachan stood to attention awaiting his orders. He was new to the detective squad, and this was his first case.

‘Hurry up, we haven’t got all day,’ said Danilov. ‘The feet feed the wolf, as we say in Minsk.’

‘Er…yes, sir, right away.’

‘I’m off back to Hongkew for a nice cuppa. Good luck with the floater, Danilov, rather you than me, heh?’ With a long, pipe-stained chuckle, Meaker twisted his moustache and walked back across the bridge to his own district.

Danilov looked down once more at the muddy, murky water eddying around the foundations of the bridge, Inspector Meaker and his jibes already forgotten. His eyes drifted across to the sandbank where the body lay half submerged, its arms stretched out to the sides. Like Jesus on the cross, he thought. And then the image of a long-forgotten triptych came back to him, its central panel a Jesus with sharp ribs and blood pouring from a wound in his side.

He smelt the rich fragrance of incense, a smell that was only found in the Orthodox churches of his youth. He lifted his nose to the wind and looked around him. A hawker had already set up his stall on the banks of the creek, taking advantage of the crowds that had come to see the body. The hawker was stirring his pot of charcoal and sweet potatoes with a wooden paddle. Each time he stirred, the unmistakable smell of incense filled the air. How strange, thought Danilov, how very strange.

The body still lay there on the sandbank, only thirty yards from shore but a whole lifetime away. The long blonde strands of hair, washed by the muddy waters, writhing in each ripple of the creek, the blondness contrasting vividly with the bleached greys of the sampans that lined the banks tied up to each other, sometimes three deep. A child, its head as round as a football, ran to the prow of one of the boats, where it was joined by a small dog, both fascinated by all the fuss. On his right leg, the child had a rope tied around his ankle. Danilov smiled to himself. Tied to a life on his boat for the next forty years. Just like all of us.

He heard Strachan run up and stand behind him.

‘Time and tide wait for no man, the English are fond of saying, are they not?’

‘I suppose so, sir.’

‘Well then, let’s get going. Our body is waiting for us, and the tide will change soon. Find the photographer, he should be around here somewhere.’

Followed by a long line of people, Danilov walked through the crowd towards the sampan like the Pied Piper leading a gaggle of curious children.


He was watching from the crowd. He saw the pantomime performed by the tall detective with the absurd moustache, wearing a suit that was too small for him. The measuring, the sighting, the rushing around to achieve nothing. God, they were idiots! Why had he been forced to endure such morons all his life? But they kept him safe, he knew that. Their stupidity allowed him to hide among them, to hide in plain sight. In Shanghai, it was so easy to pretend to have a veneer of sophistication, a veil of normality. Here, surface was everything, shallowness exalted. Everybody had a secret. Everyone knew that somebody was hiding something. It just didn

t matter.

Well, he would make it matter. He would throw light on their shallowness, on their dark secrets. The city of shadows could not hide from him. Those flickering images that pretended to be real concealing their evasions, lies, and dissembling. He would shine a light on them all. He would show them up for what they were. He had already started, but now it was time to really go to work.

He caught the aroma of sweet potato on the air. An ugly vegetable with a beautiful core of sweetness within. A bit like Shanghai he thought, but in reverse.


Danilov stepped on to the old sampan. It rocked drunkenly beneath his feet as he was joined by Strachan, two Chinese constables who would lift the body from the river, and a photographer.

An old woman stood at the rear of the boat, her back bowed like the branch of a mulberry tree. She reached out her hand with its deeply creased palms and short, stubby, dirt-encrusted fingers. ‘One dollar,’ she said thrusting her hand closer to Danilov. He reached into his pocket and gave her 50 cents. She glanced at it, smiled toothlessly, and placed it carefully in a cotton drawstring bag around her neck.

She leant on the oar that stuck out from the back of the sampan. Slowly, rhythmically, she swayed from side to side, her gnarled feet gripping the deck of the boat, only moving her upper body. The boat swam forwards toward the sandbar in short, rolling jerks.

Along the banks, the watching faces were mostly Chinese, but with a smattering of Europeans dotted in the crowd. Their taller size and sharp, white faces stood out against the round heads and Chinese gowns of the men, the elegant
chi paos
of the female office workers, and the thin vests and blue trousers of the dockside labourers.

At one side, the hawker stirred his pot of sweet potatoes. It was amazing how quickly the hawkers turned up whenever a crowd formed. It was as if they sensed that something was going to happen and were drawn to the scene like flies to sticky paper.

The boat was closer to the sandbank now. He could see the naked body quite clearly. The blonde hair was longer than he thought, the muddy water hiding its length as it waved like yellow seaweed just beneath the waves. The breasts and shoulders were small, almost undeveloped. The face was thin and angular, with traces of mascara around the eyes and a thin smear of lipstick on the lips. The arms were kept in place by weighted stones. Thin sisal ropes wrapped around the wrists ensured they stayed in place, anchored to the sandbank.

Danilov thought for a moment. This was no suicide. Not a person driven to such despair that they had thrown themselves into the river rather than face life.

BOOK: Death In Shanghai
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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