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City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai

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By the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Peking--winner of both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction--comes rags-to-riches tale of two self-made men set against a backdrop of crime and vice in the sprawling badlands of Shanghai. Shanghai, 1930s; it was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts coul By the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Peking--winner of both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction--comes rags-to-riches tale of two self-made men set against a backdrop of crime and vice in the sprawling badlands of Shanghai. Shanghai, 1930s; it was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, and fortunes made--and lost. "Lucky" Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-U.S. Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison and rose to become the Slots King of Shanghai. "Dapper" Joe Farren--a Jewish boy who fled Vienna's ghetto--ruled the nightclubs. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld's. In 1940, Lucky Jack and Dapper Joe bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation, and war. They thought they ruled Shanghai, but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams could come true.


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By the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Peking--winner of both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction--comes rags-to-riches tale of two self-made men set against a backdrop of crime and vice in the sprawling badlands of Shanghai. Shanghai, 1930s; it was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts coul By the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Peking--winner of both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction--comes rags-to-riches tale of two self-made men set against a backdrop of crime and vice in the sprawling badlands of Shanghai. Shanghai, 1930s; it was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, and fortunes made--and lost. "Lucky" Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-U.S. Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison and rose to become the Slots King of Shanghai. "Dapper" Joe Farren--a Jewish boy who fled Vienna's ghetto--ruled the nightclubs. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld's. In 1940, Lucky Jack and Dapper Joe bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation, and war. They thought they ruled Shanghai, but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams could come true.

30 review for City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai

  1. 4 out of 5

    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 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 on the two men, it was also a nice little history of Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s. I much preferred the first half of the book which was about Jack and Joe's rise to power rather than the other half which was more about their downfall. There were quite a few people to keep track of and I wish the author would have included a reference page for that instead of a glossary of terms. Overall, while the story of Jack and Joe with the backdrop of Shangahi is interesting, I wouldn't say it is must read unless you are specifically interested in nonfiction from this time period and location. I won a free copy of this book in a giveaway but was under no obligation to post a review. All views expressed are my honest opinion.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    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 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 book. I imagine that a massive amount of time went into compiling this for us readers to enjoy - thank you to the author for that. I love Asian history and have a thirst to know more, couple that with it being true crime and you have a title that is pretty close to perfection for me! French has found a niche and that is a rarity these days when generally everything has been done to death. All in all, this is a wonderful read. I enjoyed learning about everything that was going on back in the 1930's and hearing about the criminals that flocked to Shanghai to escape their pasts. If you're looking for a nuanced true crime title, you cannot go far wrong with this! I was so pleased to learn French has written about North Korea, that is right up street and i'm off to purchase it right now. Many thanks to riverrun for an ARC. I was not required to post a review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

  3. 4 out of 5

    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 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 and any other illegal activity you can imagine. Nobody seemed to have control over the Bad Lands and it was a place to make some big money for those on the wrong side of the law. The story relates the activities of the area but concentrates on two particular individuals...."Lucky" Jack Riley and "Dapper" Joe Farron (both names were aliases) They began their rise by opening small, rather dismal clubs that featured gambling and graduated to bigger things with floor shows, dining, and of course, gambling. Lucky Jack noticed that there were no slot machines in the Bad Lands and he brought them in surreptitiously. The gamblers loved them and he made a fortune. Dapper Joe was the roulette king and his clubs were very upscale with excellent entertainment and food. Then the Japanese invaded China and things began to fall apart very quickly. The invaders quickly learned that they could charge gigantic bribes to keep the clubs in business and the trouble started. The book is interesting but extremely repetitive which caused me to give a bit of a lower rating. But you might want to enter this almost mythical world of criminal Shanghai to add to your knowledge of a way of life that is no longer extant. Interesting to say the least.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    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 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 admitted adventurers, refugees, criminals and those simply looking for an escape from persecution or financial depression. This book looks at two men, in particular. There is Joe Farren, who was born in the Vienna ghetto as Josef Pollak, and became known as ‘Dapper Joe,’ and ‘Lucky Jack,’ – or Jack Riley (which was also an alias) who was an ex-US navy man and a convict on the run from an American jail. Both men re-invented themselves in a place which was a haven for such adventurers as they were. This looks at their rise, and fall, alongside the nightclubs, gambling dens, glitz and glamour of Shanghai. Certainly, though, the city had a dark, as well as a bright, side. There are drugs, gambling, and excess of all sides. What makes this story even more interesting is that the International Settlement became a no-man’s land; surrounded by the Japanese, who had long eyed China possessively and finally moved in 1937. So this is a time of political upheaval in Europe, depression and financial tremors being felt around the world and war, literally, outside of the International Settlement where this book is set. Well researched and well told, this is an excellent read, and the lives of the two men in this book read almost like a novel. French evokes both time and place well and brings the period to life.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Truman32

    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 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 starting in Connecticut and going cross-country, it is still a lot of fun. As cool as a black 1977 Trans Am with a flaming firebird emblazed on the hood, and as revealing as a nude centerfold in Cosmopolitan magazine, City of Devils is an enjoyable and eye-opening read. There is a swagger to this book usually found only in men sporting thick soft mustaches and cowboy hats. City of Devils takes place in Shanghai during the cusp of World War II. Shanghai at this time is bubbling with displaced Europeans and Americans. There are nightclubs, jazz music, and the Charleston – these expats are living life large. And they pretty much seem to be indifferent to the plight of all the native folks whose land they are living in. You see Japan has invaded China and all around this big party of the rich and light-skinned is mass murder, torture, and genocide. The Japanese army is pretty horrible with their brutality and war crimes (there is a reason they did not call it the “Bataan Tickle March” or “The Warm Two-handed Handshake of Nanking”). Everyone needs a partner. For a lucky few this could be a friend that cracks you up with their silly antics like Dom DeLuise. Or maybe this collaborator is somebody who will haul your Coors across state lines like Jerry Reed as you distract the smokies. In City of Devils the partnership is built among slot machine kingpin “Lucky” Jack Riley and hardened nightclub owner “Dapper” Joe Farren. Both men are as conniving and unscrupulous as dogs just escaped from the pound now teaming up with a young orphaned girl. And while both “Dapper” Joe and “Lucky” Jack operate on the criminal side of society, French works hard to make their motivations and feelings clear. It becomes hard not to root for these two lummoxes and I feel the love of a good woman in their lives – perhaps someone sweet like Sally Field, caring as Loni Anderson, or menacing as Dinah Shore could have steered them on the right path. Told in a narrative fashion, like a fictional crime thriller, the pages move faster than a racecar operated by famed NASCAR driver Stroker Ace. And while using this style takes some creative risks, it is nothing compared to the risks taken by top stuntman Sonny Hooper when he performed his most dangerous gag (jumping a rocket car over a spacious gorge in his final movie. This is not a perfect book. A blooper reel playing during the closing pages would be nice, as would increasing the number of automobile crashes during peak action scenes. Maybe involving longtime Hollywood director Hal Needham would have added some pizzazz. Still City of Devils is an interesting and page turning real-life story. There are moments rougher than a football game played by prisoners against their guards, peppered with emotional scenes that would rival singing a duet with Dolly Parton.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    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 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 involve show girls there is a great more drugs, murder, and the looming threat of war. French details Shanghai, in particular Joe Farren and Jack Riley, two men who were sometimes engaged in legal business and sometimes in not so legal business. Joe Farren started as a Fred Astaire or Vernon Castle type. Escaping Vienna and touring Asia with his wife and the dance troupe they eventually started. Farren is the dapper man, the married man with his wife Nellie. He does resemble, at least in French’s description. Riley is more of a gangster type. American, blunt, and physical as opposed to dapper. But not stupid, not stupid at all. His washing up at Shanghai isn’t so much to do with his performance ability. The two men are sometimes partners, sometimes rivals, sometimes enemies. In the story of the rise and fall of the two men, French also describes the imploding of Shanghai as an international colony forced upon the Chinese as well as the coming Second World War. It isn’t just crime that causes the problems but also the Japanese and the shifting of power. At points, French introduces newspaper columns and Chinese views on what is occurring – either the view of the white men or the invading Japanese. It is those bits that are the most moving and wonderful because they move the book beyond a simple history of the underworld. French writes with passion and vigor. His prose is quite engrossing, and he does the best he can with limited sources. What is most interesting (and hardy lest surprising) is that the women were harder to trace than the men. It is to French’s credit that he shows the women as more than just molls or enablers. In fact, a few of them are movers and shakers. The book is both engaging and engrossing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    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 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 advance that this means he's used the kind of casual racist epithets then prevalent. Fair enough - I'd rather he hadn't, but it's a matter of choice. I'm finding the style so distracting that I'm not getting a real feel for either of the major characters as fully developed people, and the huge supporting cast are nothing more than a stream of names. There's no doubt he creates a believable picture of the sleaziness of Shanghai at this period, and he maintains his chosen style well. So I'm sure this will work fine for plenty of people - unfortunately I'm not one of them.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    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 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 Riley and Farren's rise to underworld notoriety and eventual downfall with the latter being the more interesting of the two periods. As characters in the book, they lacked depth, much like the vast majority of the book which made it difficult to become invested in their story in any meaningful way. Despite my misgivings, City of Devils does make for some interesting reading, however I wanted more context and substance to really make this one a winner. I give this 2 (out of 5) stars.

  9. 4 out of 5

    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 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. states using the U.S. marines to assist them. I am sure if anyone has a question about this time in history, Paul French can answer it. Even the attacks by the Japanese on China in the latter part of the 1930's and early 40's had little impact on their operations or their profitability. Unfortunately, I have been in an accident just prior to reading this story and I have had a headache for over a month and the details just overwhelmed me. I finally gave up on the book around a hundred pages. I really tried. I hate that I did this but life happens. I would like to thank Paul French and Picador USA for giving me a free copy of this book, in return for my honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    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 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 the floor show and watched the Japanese close in. This book is 3 stars rather than 4 because it form didn't allow French to show his research work, and the the narrative muddled in the late 1930s as the two men's schemes and conflicts repeated with escalating stakes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    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 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 impresario Joe Farren, a now stateless Jew from Vienna, and Lucky Jack Reilly, an American ex Marine / ex Con and king of the slots who come together in the face of the end of life as they know it to make a killing... often literally. French’s gift for tying together a historical who dunnit with just enough narrative & imagination to bring the characters to life is in fine form here. The reader knows from page one that this all ends badly. The charm is in finding out just how badly, and who falls first. It’s a bloody, drug riddled, story littered with wanton crime and human destruction on just about every page. If it wasn’t based on years of research, you’d protest that it’s all too much to be believed. Readers unfamiliar with Shanghai (or it’s late 1930s incarnation) and multilingual slang will find themselves flipping frequently to the glossary & maps at the end of the book. Even with some geographical puzzlers, the story rolls on full one wild and wanton character after another that will keep the pages turning. It should be noted that French also offers some frank and truly heartbreaking retellings of the tens of thousands of the local Shanghainese community who died in the streets from bombings, starvation, exposure, forced sexual enslavement, and torture during the Japanese occupation. The scale of these losses is often overlooked or ignored in the telling of war stories from the Shanghai settlement and their inclusion in this book is to be commended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marti

    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 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 Jews, American gangsters and others who had to flee their home countries. Life was good for all involved up until about 1938. The Japanese invaders tolerated the gambling and opium trade for a long time because they were getting massive kickbacks and payoffs. However they killed this golden goose by demanding too much. Why they did this, I cannot figure out? As the casinos were forced to relocate to a part of town called "The Badlands," (because it was outside the jurisdiction of American and European law enforcement) they were still profitable, extremely so. But after they were bled dry by ever increasing "taxes," they became seedier and violence increased to such an extent that even criminals -- not to mention the "swells" - who could escape did so. Even the most vicious Vegas mobsters knew enough not to shoot people right in front of the casinos because it was bad for business. It only got worse for the people trapped there after Pearl Harbor as the region exploded into unprecedented violence. Reading this makes me want to read Empire of the Sun which takes place in Shanghai during this same period.

  13. 5 out of 5

    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.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    Slow start but definitely picks up. However, no citations or sources.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Halley Sutton

    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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    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.

  19. 4 out of 5

    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 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 slot machines (something he ended up being so successful with that he was eventually dubbed the Slots King of Shanghai) while Joe tasted gradual success first by performing in, and later by opening up and owning, one of the more popular nightclubs in the city and ruling the dance halls with his choreographing talents. When the two later joined forces, they ended up opening one of the biggest, most successful (and illegal) nightclub and casino in pre-world war two Shanghai, where crime and mayhem is simply a way of life. Being as successful and under the spotlights as they were, with the second world war looming and China being on the direct path of Japan's campaign to cement itself as a supreme power of the world out of Asia, it was inevitable that it would all come crashing down spectacularly for the duo, and this forms the crux of Paul French's true crime tale based on two of the most interesting characters to have lived on the city at the time. As odd as it may have seemed to readers who are accustomed to reading crime fiction (or any other regular fiction for that matter), City of Devils go from beginning up till the end with no dialogues between the characters. At times it was like watching a documentary in which series of events were presented with some detachment by the narrator, but never in a dull way. The book's apparent lack of humor is substituted instead by ironies that are often present in real life situations which do make one chuckle and smile, while the story, as it was put together was nothing but gripping. Though you know from the get-go that the two main characters are doomed, getting such detailed insight into their lives in a crime-filled city like Shanghai in the 20's, 30's and the 40's almost feels voyeuristic and simply adds to the overall intrigue. If history textbooks were presented this way, it would definitely make for a far more interesting subject! Besides Jack and Joe, other characters weaved in are famous enough for the reader to have heard about (e.g. Douglas Fairbanks), others maybe not so much (e.g. Buck Clayton, a legendary American Jazz trumpet player), but they all contribute enough flavour to the already colourful cast of characters that seems to have been painted as they really were, which should be expected in a story based on actual events. The most outstanding of these characters, is of course the city of Shanghai itself that contributes to the overall ambience and mood of the era, from which the author steps back from every now and then to provide the readers with a look of how it behaves and shares with us the pains, fears, longings, desperations and even the superstitions of its inhabitants. These sections are a treat and a highlight to those who yearn to really understand the essence of what it means to be a part of this great city in that specific era. City of Devils is quite an engaging read which should appeal to fans of noir fiction, non-fiction as well as true crime and history. Its casual analysis of pre-world war Shanghai is apt, satisfying, and does not skimp on details - it does get graphic at times but this simply reflects the reality of the era, as Shanghai was a city awash with all kind of vices known to men and only the most ruthless and cunning could even hope to survive, much less rise to the top, even if only for a little while.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Florence

    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 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 trade one could get rich or end up face down in an alley. For the affluent, the city was a playground of night clubs and gambling. When the Japanese invaded China initially they respected the city's international status. That changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Shanghai's golden days became a memory. Note: This book lacks maps. It was difficult to follow the complicated action without a visual aid.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeanne Nichols

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I liked the subject matter. I had no knowledge of the state of East Asia during this time period. I had no idea that Shanghai was such a wild city. I enjoyed learning about the customs and behaviors of that time. I did not like the writing style of this author. I often found it difficult to know where things were in relationship to other places. (A map would have been nice.) Overall, it was not a bad book, just one that I had a little bit of difficulty following. I received this book in a Goodread I liked the subject matter. I had no knowledge of the state of East Asia during this time period. I had no idea that Shanghai was such a wild city. I enjoyed learning about the customs and behaviors of that time. I did not like the writing style of this author. I often found it difficult to know where things were in relationship to other places. (A map would have been nice.) Overall, it was not a bad book, just one that I had a little bit of difficulty following. I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway. That in no way affected my review.

  22. 5 out of 5

    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.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    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 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 criminally enterprising, anything goes spirit as portrayed in Boardwalk Empire. It gives us the feel for an international community (and last stop for many a desperado) under the shadow of a menacing Axis power - much like Casablanca. This is the story of story of the rise and fall of Shanghai's last two criminal king pins and the slow death of old Shanghai as its international colony imploded under the ascending power of the Japanese in the years leading up to total war in the Far East. By 1932, the city where Jack Riley and Joe Farran chose to make their bones, had become the world's fifth largest city and home to 70,000 foreigners. So strong was the foreign influence that the United States even maintained a district court in Shanghai called the United States Court for China which had extraterritorial jurisdiction over U.S. citizens. It had jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. The British had similar arrangements. Actually the British were the first to force themselves into Shanghai with the 1842 Treaty of Nanking after winning the First Opium War. This allowed them to dictate opening Shanghai (along with other Chinese cities) as a treaty port (a nice way of saying a place of trade and enrichment for the conquerors) for international trade. Subsequent treaties forced the Chinese to grant trade concessions to the French and Americans on land outside the walled city of Shanghai, which continued to be ruled by the Chinese. In 1863, the British and American settlements joined together to form the Shanghai International Settlement. The French opted out of the Shanghai Municipal Council and maintained its own concession. Eventually the Settlement represented fourteen foreign power who had extracted treaty port rights from a weak and teetering Qing Dynasty China. Each had its own consulate and courts within the Settlement, for within the Settlement a foreigner was not subject to Chinese justice but only to that of his or her own nation. During the ensuing decades, citizens of many countries flocked to Shanghai to seek their fortunes. Those who stayed for long periods – some for generations – called themselves "Shanghailanders". The Japanese became another foreign power in town after First Sino-Japanese War in 1895. In the 1920s and 1930s, almost 20,000 White Russians and Russian Jews fled the communist tyranny of the Soviet Union and took up residence in Shanghai. In the 1930s, some 30,000 German and Austrian Jews running from Nazi persecution found refuge there. Joe Farran was one of those Jewish Austrians to leap into this hodge podge of nationalities. Well, more accurately he danced his way into town - straight out of a ghetto in Vienna as the Nazis were rising to power. Shanghai didn’t care that he was Jewish — he and his partner had the best chorus girl show in town. He made a fortune under the hot stage lights, sweltering in the stuffy city and opened his own club. His biggest flaw was ignoring his beautiful wife, Nellie, and jumping into bed with the talent. Joe Riley is the American example of rags-to-riches determination and moxie in this story. He began in an orphanage, worked his way up to polishing brass in a brothel, did a stint the Navy's Yangtze river patrol, drove a taxi for the wrong people in Tulsa, and ended up serving a 35 year prison sentence until he just walked away from his confinement during a baseball game. This sailor-brawler-risk taker whose ability to smuggle in slot machines and intimidate allowed him to command huge influence in the Shanghai underworld. His biggest mistake was laughing in a judge's face one day. His next trip to court didn't turn out so well. Joe and Jack ran in the same circles, drank in the same clubs, lost money on the same races. And in the last fading years — between the invasion of Japan and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the two teamed up to create what they thought was an impermeable fortress of gambling, crime and nightlife. This is definitely an interesting read, and tells a part of history that I was somewhat unfamiliar with. I knew only what Spielberg had told me in Temple of Doom. French brought a lot of different elements together: business dealings, drug running, gambling, war, politics, etc. The set up of Shanghai's international settlement really intrigued me. Initially I found reading this work a chore, because French decided to write in present tense 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 had to refer to his glossary constantly, but once I learned the lingo and got in the swing of things the reading became much easier. The book is both engaging and engrossing. Go for it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    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 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

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jenni Link

    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 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 decided to write mostly in the present tense and in Cab Calloway hepcat lingo throughout, and it really detracts from the reading experience. I'd give it five stars but for that. It's fine to say "money" or "women" - you don't have to say "gelt" or "dames" as if you're sitting at the keyboard in a zoot suit. I understand that his other books may not be like that, so I'll give them a look.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lexie Lucas

    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 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 coming crashing down around them. I found this book very interesting, although it took me a while to get through. I would love there to be pictures in the final volume detailing all these people and giving me faces to match with these names. I would like to read some more books by this author.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Diogenes

    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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Griffin

    I read the book. I try to other edition. I cannot find the hardcover edition.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mick Howey

    4.5 Stars. In the years between World War I and II Shanghai's nightlife was all dance and drinks, heroin and coke, opium and bennies, grifts and greed, and slots and money. Loads and loads of money. Entering the debauchery were two gentlemen looking to make their fortune after having fled from their past. The American Jack Riley was fleeing a life behind bars having escaped from prison in the Stares. Born in Vienna's ghetto, Joe Farren was fleeing Nazi Germany. Both rose to staggering wealth and 4.5 Stars. In the years between World War I and II Shanghai's nightlife was all dance and drinks, heroin and coke, opium and bennies, grifts and greed, and slots and money. Loads and loads of money. Entering the debauchery were two gentlemen looking to make their fortune after having fled from their past. The American Jack Riley was fleeing a life behind bars having escaped from prison in the Stares. Born in Vienna's ghetto, Joe Farren was fleeing Nazi Germany. Both rose to staggering wealth and heights in Shanghai. Riley by bringing and controlling all the slot machines in the city. Farren, with his otherworldly ability to dance and choreographer skills, was the city's most sought after floorshow entertainer. The "Slots King" Riley and "Dapper" Joe Farren partnered on an enterprise even more lucrative and made millions. Even after a major fall out and despite his serious misgivings, Farren teamed up with Riley once again to open the biggest Casio in Shanghai. Then it all spectacularly fell apart. Author French weaves their story in short, terse biting sentences that propel the story at a relentless speed. What sets this book apart from others of the same genre is the social context that French provides. It frames and fills in Riley and Farren's lives while adding a sense of urgency, grittiness, and desperation to the story.

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