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City of Devils

The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai

Paul French


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ISBN10: 1250170583
ISBN13: 9781250170583


320 Pages



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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 rivaled 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.


Praise for City of Devils

“In City of Devils, Mr. French burrows into the unsavory side of the metropolis, focusing on the less photogenic elements of the age: drugs, guns, gangs, gambling and graft. In contrast to the sort of hazy nostalgia that elides many sordid tales of old Shanghai, “City of Devils” casts a sharp, clear light on the shady characters who—no less than their legitimate counterparts—played a role in creating Shanghai’s now-mythic golden age.”—Maura Cunningham, Wall Street Journal

"City of Devils is classified as “literary non-fiction," which basically means that it’s a well-told, well-written historical narrative. Set in a nearly lawless Shanghai in the 1930s, the book follows two self-made men (“Lucky Jack” Riley, the slots king of Shanghai, and “Dapper Joe” Farren, the ringleader of a series of nightclubs) as they rise, then fall, in a true-crime noir set in a debauched city on the eve of its own downfall."—James Tarmy, Bloomberg

“City of Devils is more than just Jack and Joe’s stories. It’s the story of old Shanghai. It’s the story of racial and class divides. It’s the story of a city between world wars and the fall of the “Paris of the Orient” during the second."—Criminal Element

“In addition to this suspenseful yarn, the author paints a striking portrait of a Shanghai on the eve of Japanese occupation . . . A Casablanca without heroes and just the thing for those who like their crime stories the darkest shade of noir.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“In French’s wonderfully atmospheric portrait, Shanghai is a tapestry of grungy dive bars, swanky nightspots, drunken soldiers, brazen showgirls, Chinese gangsters, corrupt cops, and schemers like “Evil Evelyn,” a madam who enticed wealthy wives with gigolos and blackmailed them with the resulting photos…. French’s two-fisted prose…makes this deep noir history unforgettable.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


Born Fahnie Albert Becker, the custodians called him John. His origins were a subject of rumour and conjecture, an ever-changing story as the years and then the decades passed. But the man who would be Jack Riley to all in Shanghai...

About the author

Paul French

PAUL FRENCH was born in London, educated there and in Glasgow, and has lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. His book Midnight in Peking was a New York Times Bestseller, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, and will be made into an international mini-series by Kudos Film and Television, the UK creators of Broadchurch and Life on Mars.

Sue Anne Tay

Paul French

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