Master of the Rain

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The brilliant new thriller from the acclaimed author of Shadow Dancer and The Sleep of the Dead.

Shanghai, 1926. A city of British Imperial civil servants, American gun-runners, Russian princesses and Chinese gangsters, where heroin is available on room service and everything is for sale. Exotic, sexually liberated and pulsing with life, it is a place and time where anything...
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2002 Paperback Very good Some edge rubbing. () Every once in a while a book comes along that combines larger-than-life epic adventure; idiomatic, pungent historical detail and ... genuine storytelling panache. Tom Bradby's The Master of Rain is such a book, carrying the reader headlong into a breathless tale of double-dealing and murder in 1920s Shanghai. What's more, Bradby never allows his sprawling canvas to overwhelm his beleaguered characters who always remain in keen focus. Richard Field, Bradby's resourceful protagon. Read more Show Less

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Overview

The brilliant new thriller from the acclaimed author of Shadow Dancer and The Sleep of the Dead.

Shanghai, 1926. A city of British Imperial civil servants, American gun-runners, Russian princesses and Chinese gangsters, where heroin is available on room service and everything is for sale. Exotic, sexually liberated and pulsing with life, it is a place and time where anything seems possible.

For Richard Field, it represents a brave new world away from the past he is trying to escape. Seconded to the police force, his first moment of active duty is a brutal crime scene. A young White Russian woman, Lena Orlov, lies spreadeagled on her bed, sadistically murdered. As he begins to peer through the glittering surface to the murky depths beneath, Field sees a world beyond the glamour of the city’s expatriate life -- a world where everything has its price, and where human life is merely another asset to barter.

The key to the investigation seems to be Lena’s neighbour, Natasha Medvedev. But can Field trust someone for whom self-preservation is the only goal? And is it wise to fall in love when there is every sign that Natasha herself may be the next victim? In a city where reality is a dangerous luxury, Field is driven into the darkness beyond the dazzle of society to a world where the basest of human needs are met and where the truth seems certain to be a fatal commodity . . .
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
British TV newsman Bradby used his time in Hong Kong to do some research on 1920s-era Shanghai, the result of which is this hefty first novel of corruption, debauchery and decaying colonialism. Richard Field, a young policeman from Yorkshire, lands a job in the Special Branch of Shanghai's police department circa 1926. Honest but naeve, the Englishman falls into a snake pit of corruption and rivalry, revealed when a Russian prostitute is savagely murdered by a maniac. The trail leads to local gangster "Pockmark" Lu Huang, a powerful opium smuggler; when evidence begins disappearing and mysterious cash deposits are made to his bank account, Field knows the department is dirty, but can't get support from anyone except his sidekick Caprisi (a pugnacious American transplant who cut his teeth fighting Capone in Chicago). What's more, Field falls hard for the dead Russian's neighbor, Natasha Medvedev, who is one of "Lu's girls" and therefore, as Field discovers, highly likely to meet a fate similar to her neighbor's, which Field learns is only one in a string of such homicides. But when Field's investigation threatens Lu's opium ring, Lu lashes out at the foreign police force and the body count rises precipitously. The novel works better as a multilayered mystery than as a period piece, as the background historical issues are obscured by the more modern focus on frenzied sex and death. Likewise, the obvious film noir look the author goes for is undermined by the late 20th-century serial-killer shtick he injects into the plot. Despite the periodic glimpse of Western elitism and building Chinese sympathy for communism, there is remarkably little use of local color (language, food, local customs) to satisfy readers of historical thrillers, though the mystery plot doesn't disappoint. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Apr. 16) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A foreign correspondent for British TV's ITN, Bradby takes on Shanghai in 1926, where an English cop discovers that he is not supposed to solve the murder of a young Russian woman. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A straight-arrow young Yorkshireman dives headlong into the corruption of European Shanghai in the 1920s-and very nearly drowns. China's rich, rotten plum of a port is the star in this very noir debut by British TV reporter Bradby. The innocent Englishman is Richard Field, son of an obsessively upright but abusive father and a much-higher-class mother with whose very posh relatives Field rather shyly connects upon his arrival in grotesquely divided Shanghai. Field, without a dime but well educated and a fine boxer, has taken a job as a detective in the British police force that keeps the peace in the Imperial sector of Shanghai's international enclave. He is promptly paired with Detective Caprisi, a tough Chicagoan with a bitter past, and assigned to the investigation of the brutal murder of one of the many Russian demimondaines living in the European underworld. The investigation is hampered immediately by rivalries within the police force and by the early discovery that the victim was the property of Lu, the most powerful Chinese gangster in the city. To complicate further, Natasha, the beautiful but damaged singer in the flat next to the murder victim's, proves irresistible to the handsome and grievously inexperienced young Field. Field's persistent inquiries into the murder and Lu's doings stir things up dangerously, as the European community has largely accommodated the gangster to keep things smooth in the business sector, and Field would be a goner were it not for his connection to Uncle Geoffrey Donaldson, a war hero who sits at the top of the thoroughly rotten social heap. There is also protection from the good guys on the police force, but who the good guys are is not at allclear, and becomes even less so as the trail leads to earlier and similar murders of other hapless Russian beauties. Sifting into the social chaos is that most explosive new ingredient, communism. Tense and rather lush, expertly working the wonderful setting without overplaying the cultural clash: eerily well suited to these parlous times.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780593048160
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers Limited
  • Publication date: 3/26/2002
  • Pages: 479

Meet the Author

Tom Bradby has been a senior correspondent for ITN for more than a decade. As Ireland Correspondent, he covered the unfolding peace process before going on to become Political Correspondent. He then spent three years based in Hong Kong as Asia Correspondent, during which time he was shot and seriously wounded whilst covering a riot in Jakarta. He is now the Royal Correspondent. He is the acclaimed author of Shadow Dancer, The Sleep of the Dead and The Master of Rain.
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Read an Excerpt

1

Field felt like a lobster being brought slowly to the boil. For a moment, he closed his eyes against the heat and the humidity and the still, heavy air. Only the clatter of typewriters hinted at energy and motion.

He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his jacket and looked again at the two figures gesticulating behind the frosted glass. They were still arguing, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that it might be about him.

Macleod's secretary had stopped typing and was appraising him with a steady gaze. "You're new," she said, pushing her half-moon glasses up from the end of her nose.

"Yes." Field nodded.

The woman wasn't showing any sign of discomfort, despite being three times his size and wearing a cardigan. "Take your jacket off, if you're hot," she said.

Field smiled, glancing up at the fan. It turned lethargically, with no discernible effect on the air beneath it.

He put his hands in his pockets. Macleod's office door had the words Superintendent Macleod, Head of Crime, engraved in the glass and, although it was not Field's position to say, the security of tenure this implied confirmed what he had already heard about the confidence of the man.

Field looked up at the fan again, and the paint that was peeling off the ceiling above it. For a moment, the sun broke through the thick blanket of cloud that had been loitering over the city for days, spilling light onto the desks at the far end of the room. Despite the dark wood paneling, the tall windows made the place seem less gloomy than the Special Branch office upstairs.

He tugged the corner of his collar away from histhroat and wiped the sweat from his skin with his index finger. He'd never imagined heat like this.

Macleod's secretary was still staring at him. "How are you enjoying Shanghai?"

"Fine, thanks."

She started typing again, fat fingers pounding the big metal keys, then stopped and looked at him. "Slept with a Russian yet? Paid for a princess?"

Macleod's door opened and a small, lean man with dark, slicked back hair walked past him. "Caprisi?" Field asked, but whatever had been going on in there, it had left Caprisi in no mood to talk. He headed for his desk, took his jacket from the back of the chair, pulled open a drawer, slipped a pistol into the leather holster that hung from his shoulder and marched towards the lift.

Field turned to face Macleod, who stood at his office door, toying with the chain around his neck. He was a burly man, almost bald, with a thin crown of grey hair. "You're Field?" His voice was deep, with a broad Scottish accent.

"Yes, sir."

"Follow him down."

For a moment, Field hesitated.

"Well go on man, what are you waiting for?"

Field got into the elevator after Caprisi and hit the button for the ground floor. It cranked into action with a jolt and a loud crack, and descended, as always, so hesitantly that it would have been quicker to crawl down the stairs on all fours.

Not that anyone wanted to take the stairs in this heat.

"You're new?" The American asked.

Field nodded. "Yes."

"Still a trainee."

"Not officially, no."

Caprisi shook his head dolefully, before looking down at his shoes. Field noticed how carefully they'd been polished--just as his own had been ever since he'd come to the Far East and been relieved of the need to do anything like that for himself. He remembered his father's obsession with his lack of military discipline and allowed himself a smile.

The American moved quickly through the lobby, his leather soles slapping the stone floor. Outside, Field found himself squinting against the sun, before it once again disappeared behind a bank of dark cloud.

A Buick with a long brown body and a bright yellow hood stood at the kerb, its engine running. As he climbed into the near side, Field noticed there were three bullet holes in the panel by the door.

"Where's Chen?" Caprisi asked the driver, leaning forward against the scuffed leather seat.

The driver was an old man dressed in a white tunic. He turned and shook his toothless head.

Caprisi settled back and waited, looking out of his window, trying to contain his impatience, rapping the glass with his knuckles. Field saw that he had a large gold ring on the index finger of his right hand.

"Come on, Chen," he said under his breath. "What's he doing?" he asked the driver, though, so far as Field could tell, the man spoke no English.

Field turned to see a tall Chinese emerging from the entrance of the Central Police Station. He wore a full-length khaki mackintosh and carried a Thompson machine gun. He climbed onto the running board and ducked his head through the open window.

"This is a present from Granger," Caprisi explained, pointing at Field. "He's a trainee," he said, ignoring Field's earlier intimation that his training was complete.

Chen seemed less put out by Field's apparent intrusion than Caprisi and reached across to shake his hand, before barking an order at the driver and slapping the roof. He remained on the running board as they lurched forward, the gun banging against the bodywork. Field felt for his own pistol in his jacket pocket, suddenly aware of the rapid beating of his heart.

They moved a hundred yards down Foochow Road. Field looked out past Chen at the tide of humanity sweeping down the pavement beside them, until they were brought to a halt once more. Caprisi leant forward to try and see what was causing the hold up, then sat back with a sigh.

"Granger told me you're from Chicago," Field said.

Caprisi turned to him, a thin smile playing across his lips. "Granger is the intelligence chief, so he should know."

"What brought you here?"

Caprisi's face was impassive. "How long have you been in Shanghai, Field?"

"About three months."

"And you've not yet learnt the golden rule?" Caprisi smiled again and Field realised he looked like a Caucasian version of Chen--thick dark hair, bushy eyebrows, a narrow nose and an easy, sly smile. The sleeves of his dark jacket were pulled up above his elbows, revealing broad forearms, and bushy hair spilled out of his open-necked shirt. "Take my advice, never ask anyone in Shanghai about their past. Especially not a lady."

Field turned to the window as an old beggar woman thrust a bundle of rags towards him. As Chen clubbed her aside with the butt of his Thompson, he saw that the bundle contained a baby.

"Take it easy, Chen," Caprisi said, almost to himself. He leant forward impatiently once more. "What's the hold-up?" he shouted. Chen leaned through the window and shook his head.

"What's your name, Field?"

"Richard. But most people call me Field."

"Dick?"

Field grimaced.

"You don't like Dick?"

"No one calls me that."

"What's wrong with it?"

Field looked at him, smiling. "There's nothing wrong with it, Caprisi. It's just that no one calls me that. But if you want to, be my guest."

"Spirit." The American smiled, approvingly. "You'll need that here."

"What's your name?"

"My name is Caprisi."

They had stopped again and could see now that a crowd of people had gathered in the middle of the street. Caprisi opened his door. Chen and Field followed as he shoved his way through.

The crowd parted reluctantly to reveal a scrawny man lying flat on the road, a pool of congealed blood beneath his head and neck. The upper part of his body was bare and still glistening with sweat. The rickshaw, which had once been his livelihood, had been crushed like a pile of matchsticks. For a moment, they all looked at him silently. Field knew enough about the city to be certain that this random accident was likely to plunge a large, extended family into destitution. Caprisi was checking the man's neck for a pulse.

"What happened?" Caprisi demanded, before switching to Chinese. Field only understood the last instruction: "Move aside, move aside."

On the way back to the car, Caprisi asked, "How's your Shanghainese?"

"I'm getting there," Field said, walking fast to keep up.

"Congratulations." Caprisi's mood had soured. "Hit by a car. Oldsmobile. Westerners, who didn't bother to stop."

Their driver edged through the crowd, before hurtling down Foochow Road to an apartment building opposite the racecourse. There was another police car parked outside, with two uniformed officers standing guard by a sign saying 'Happy Times.' They nodded as Caprisi and Chen headed into the ornate lobby. An elderly Chinese in a red uniform with gold brocade sat behind a marble desk. He smiled at them.

"Top floor," one of the policemen said as they stepped into the lift.

Caprisi hit the button for the third floor and the lift began to move. It was swifter and smoother than their own, with polished wood panels and mirrors. Field tried not to look at himself, but Caprisi was unselfconsciously removing something from his teeth. Chen caught Field's eye and smiled. He was holding the Thompson down by his side, its magazine resting against his knee.

The top landing was spacious, with two doors separated by a gold mirror. Another uniformed officer was standing guard by the one on the right.

Inside, the main room was not as big as Field had anticipated, but the flat was a far cry from his own quarters. The wooden floor had been recently polished. One wall was dominated by a long sofa covered in a white cotton sheet and silk cushions in a kaleidoscope of colours. There was a handsome Chinese chest beside it, upon which sat a gramophone. A rattan chair had been pushed up against the French windows, which opened onto a small balcony.

A bookshelf in the corner was lined with embossed leather spines and photograph frames.

Field pulled at his collar again to ease the pressure on his neck, before following Caprisi through to the bedroom at the far end of a short corridor.

He recoiled at the smell and then the sight of blood on white sheets, and tried to shield this reaction from Caprisi. A Chinese plain clothed detective he did not recognise was dusting the bedside table with fingerprint powder. A photographer was lining up a shot and there was the sudden thump of a flashgun.

"Jesus," Caprisi said quietly.

The woman lay in the middle of the big, brass bed that occupied most of the room. Her wrists and ankles were handcuffed to each corner, her body half-turned, as if twisting to be free. She was wearing silk lingerie: a beige camisole and knickers, a suspender belt and stockings. She had been stabbed repeatedly in the stomach and vagina and had bled profusely. The blood was now dry; it had taken some time for her death to be discovered.

Caprisi made his way round to the far side of the bed, next to the wardrobe. He glanced through a separate door into the bathroom.

"Don't touch anything."

Field nodded, without moving or taking his eyes from the woman's face. She had short blonde hair, and her lips were still pink with lipstick. Her mouth was half open, giving the disconcerting impression that her face was distorted with pleasure.

"Jesus," Caprisi said again.

Field did not respond.

"Ever seen a dead body like this?"

Field shook his head.

Caprisi leant forward, examining her. "Good looking girl." He sat close to the woman's waist. Field tried not to look at the patch of dark hair, which became visible as Caprisi took hold of the top band of her knickers and began to lower them, until they were around her knees. The corpse was stiff and he grimaced with the effort. "She's been dead some time," he said. Field felt the dryness in his throat as Caprisi leant down to take a closer look, using his fingers to try and open the gap between her thighs. There was dried blood everywhere, most of the sheet a dark red.

Caprisi wiped his fingers on the lower part of her leg, then pulled the knickers back up again. He stood, looking down at the body, frowning. "Hard to tell," he said, more to himself than Field. "But I'm not sure . . ." He looked up. "What do you think?"

Field shook his head. "About what?"

"I don't think there's been an assault. A sexual one."

Field didn't answer.

"She's still got her underwear on," Caprisi said.

"That doesn't mean she wasn't assaulted."

"True, but there's no sign of any sperm on the camisole, underwear, or stockings. None that I can see." He walked past Field towards the door. He looked angry. "We'd better get Maretsky down here," he said, stepping out into the corridor. "Chen, get Maretsky will you, and tell him to get a move on?"

Caprisi returned to the other side of the room. "So tell me about the woman, Field. Field?"

"Yes."

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"You're bunching your fists."

Field breathed out quietly and unclenched his hands.

"Tell me about her."

"In what way?"

"What's her name again?"

"Lena Orlov," Field said. "Granger asked records whether the address rang a bell and Danny pulled out the file on Orlov straight away. The photograph matches. I can see it's her."

Caprisi frowned. "Tell me about her."

"I'm not sure if I know all that--"

"Then why has Granger given us the pleasure of your company?"

"The file is not extensive."

"Save me having to look at it."

Field took a deep breath. "Suspected Bolshevik sympathizer. Attended meetings at the 'New Shanghai Life.' Lived here. But we don't have much more than that."

Caprisi had been eyeing the white photograph frame beside the bed. He picked it up, took a closer look and then threw it across to Field. Field noticed how he clenched his teeth when he was angry, making the muscle in his cheeks twitch. He could see the American suspected Special Branch had a separate agenda.

The picture was of a family, seated formally on a lawn in front of a large country house. The mother was a thin, elegant woman; the father sat stiffly in military uniform. There were five children, three boys in white sailor suits, and two blonde girls in pretty white dresses, leaning against their mother's knee. Lena had been the elder of the two girls. Field, suddenly sombre, put the picture face down on the bed. The body in front of him had been transformed suddenly by this glimpse of a past.

"Her father was a Tsarist officer in Mother Russia, and you think she's a Bolshevik." Caprisi shook his head. "You guys should do your research."

The Chinese detective was still on his knees, brushing the bedside table. Caprisi put a hand on his shoulder. "How are we doing?"


From the Hardcover edition.
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