SHANGHAI by William Marshall


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Marshall, master of acerbic dialogue, offbeat characters, and exotic atmosphere in his Hong Kong mysteries, returns with all those qualities, and more--in this vivid, if ultimately overcooked, evocation of the final 1941 days of the neutral International Settlement within the Japanese-occupied Chinese city of Shanghai. The fact that Pearl Harbor is just days away casts an ironic shadow over the central plot here: scrambling attempts on both sides to preserve the uneasy peace when two Japanese spies are found dead in the International Settlement. The aging, England-loving Japanese commander would be happy to ignore the murders, but his rabidly war-hungry second-in-command humiliates and badgers the old man (who'll soon die via hara-kiri) into giving the Settlement police ten days to deliver the murderers. . . or else. And this assignment falls to Sgt. Jack Edge--China-born son of slain missionaries, husband to a Chinese woman (who has left him), perpetually unpromoted sergeant (because of his ""Chink-loving"" attitudes). Shanghai, however, is not a murder mystery, but a mini-panorama; Marshall's focus roams from Edge to Chinese refugees to Edge's racist boss (and his genteel, mad wife, desperate to board a December 8 sailing to Australia) to Edge's rowdy, humane cronies--a priest trying to preserve a cache of antiquities; a Sikh policeman who fakes his own drowning and flees home to India; and a pseudo-cynical lawyer from America who flies to his death when he realizes he's been unknowingly aiding the Japanese. All of this is unclich‚d and fascinating; Marshall falters only in the book's last section--the fall of the Settlement is imminent, everyone (including Edge's new Chinese refugee mistress) is flocking to that Australia-bound ship, but Edge can't bring himself to leave and ultimately sacrifices himself for his friends and for Shanghai. This heroic idealism is overdone, and the plot is awkwardly contrived to frame Edge's noble, humane, culture-torn dilemma--too neat and too much. But, until then, this is an imaginative and shrewd scenic kaleidoscope which, though less ambitious and more slanted than the work of Paul Scott or J. G. Farrell, will appeal to much of that discerning Scott/Farrell/Theroux readership.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1979
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston