The Killing Time by M J Lee – Inspector Danilov #4
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 Killing Time is set in Shanghai 1932, the year of the golden goat. I was instantly drawn to the era and location, as I am a huge fan of historical fiction. The novel opens with DS Strachan and Dr Fang at the autopsy of an unknown 13yr old boy. The child has a mutilated face and his right ear has been removed. He died via manual strangulation and was dumped at a building site. He shows no signs of sexual assault and his only identifiable feature is a strawberry birthmark.
It is a case that throws up more questions than answers. What is the motive? Why was he dumped at the building site? Who is he? Is someone targeting children?
‘This one is extremely personal, Inspector. Our victim, whatever his name is, will have been looking straight into the eyes of his killer as he died’ – Dr Fang
Locally students are protesting the Japanese occupation of Manchurita. Calling for others and shopkeepers to boycott Japanese trade. Thugs hassle shopkeepers and it becomes clear the ‘protest’ may require a police presence.
The novel further explores the political situation and expands to explain about the local gangs that operate.
Inspector Danilov is also experiencing his own personal grief and pain at the loss of his son Ivan; just 2yrs ago. The bereavement seems to be a driving force in his search for justice for the victims of this insane killer.
The novel is a complex murder mystery, with the reveal of the culprit at the end a brilliant piece of writing. Almost Columbo in style. The novel comprises of short, sharp and to the point chapters, which I like. The descriptions of Shanghai as a location are interesting. I think the novel could have benefitted from more female characters. It was comprised of nearly an entire male cast.
A complex mystery with elements of culture. 4*
Guest Post: by M J Lee
Is Shanghai the perfect place to set a crime novel?
Thanks for this opportunity to talk about myself and the Danilov novels. It’s something I love doing almost as much as I love writing the books.
I remember very clearly when the idea for writing a novel set in the Shanghai of the 1920s and 1930s came to me.
I was out strolling one evening in Shanghai (we were living in the city at that time). It was around dusk in October, one of the best times of the year in the city. Perfect walking weather. I reached the crossroads at Jiangxi Middle Road and Fuzhou Road, just opposite the Metropole Hotel. A square where four Art Deco buildings built in the 1930s meet. For a moment, there was no traffic and no people, a strange occurrence in a city of over twenty million people. I closed my eyes and was suddenly transported back to the 1920s, imagining old Dodges, Packards and Chevrolets rolling up to the hotel, discharging carloads of flappers and elegant men wearing tuxedos.
A lovely moment, trapped in time.
The Inspector Danilov books were born. And what a time to write about. Back then, the city of ‘joy, gin and jazz’ was an amazing melting pot of adventurers, spies, triads, opium smugglers, merchants, con-men, communists, criminals, fascists, Japanese miltarists, gamblers and refugees. With such a witches cauldron of deceit and double-dealing, happiness and despair, wealth and poverty, it soon became obvious that only a crime novel, with its strong moral compass, could explore the depths of the abyss that was Shanghai.
The two main characters, Detective Inspector Danilov and Detective Sergeant Strachan, are both outsiders, in a society full of outsiders. They are employed by the Shanghai Municipal Police but distanced and separate from the rest of their colleagues, and from the society of the time. Mavericks are always so much more interesting to read about and to write. The choice of Danilov as the lead in the books actually came from a line in a policeman’s memoir of the time. He mentioned that when they had a problem, both the French and Shanghai police turned to White Russian members of their forces to solve it for them.
So far, four books in the series have been published. The latest The Killing Time is set in Shanghai 1932, in the days before the Japanese invaded the city for the first time. It’s apart of the series but can be read as a standalone novel.
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