Field is a young English officer in the Shanghai Municipal Police, freshly arrived from Yorkshire. Through his uncle high in the Shanghai establishment, he is very quickly introduced to both the high Shanghai society, and the less glamorous parts of the megalopolis. The master of Rain is a crime novel based in Shanghai 1927, centered around the resolution of furious murders of Russian prostitutes. Field tries is best to solve the murder, along with his newly found friend, the American detective Capresi. They are surrounded by a fallen White Russian noble turned into serving men (Natasha Medvedev) and the Taipan of one of the largest trade house (Charles Lewis), all of it under the shadow of the king of Shanghai’s mafia.
Although I bought this book without knowing anything about it, I have loved every page. Tom Bradby was the foreign correspondent for a British TV in China. Based in Hong Kong, he clearly used a lot of time and efforts to research and recreate the old Shanghai in his novel. Characters have the right tone and locations in the city have been thoroughly researched. Only Shanghai experts will notice a few omissions, or inventions but they never deviate too far from documented history. Action flows at a fast pace making this book a real page turner.
Though enjoying the book tremendously, I have to admit that the universe created by Tom Bradby has a lot of sight, but very few sounds, smell or taste. It fails a little to immerse us in the (noisy) streets of Shanghai. There is a also a little too much indulgence in making the characters meet various historical figure (such a Borodin) without any need for the actual story. The actual plot is sometimes bizarre and the book leaves many questions unanswered, which is a bit disappointing for a crime novel. Finally, the sexual serial crime at the center of the novel seems a little odd in the 1930’s.
Nevertheless, The Master of Rain is a great introduction to the old Shanghai, recreating the Paris of the East and illustrating the high life of a few as well as the hard life of many. As a quick introduction to the Old Shanghai, it comes highly recommended.