Shanghai’s criminal literary hotspots

Getting Warmer author Alan Carter is in Shanghai researching his third novel in the Cato Kwong Series. Here are his top literary spots for the criminally inclined.

For any crime fiction lover spending time in Shanghai the first point of reference has to be Qiu Xiaolong’s ‘Chief Inspector Chen’ series, set in Shanghai and spanning the 1990s – the first decade of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms which proclaimed that ‘to get rich is glorious’. Inspector Chen – poet, gourmet, sleuth, and incurable romantic – tiptoes his way through political minefields to solve crimes of passion and betrayal whose roots are often found in the turbulent years of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Shanghai – ‘Paris of the East’ or ‘Whore of the Orient’ depending on your perspective. First stop, the world-famous Bund – a promenade along the mile-long riverside walk with the space-age architecture of Pudong to the east and the nineteenth-century grandeur of the old port and financial buildings on the west. Latter-day Shanghai emerged from the Opium Wars with the British in the early 1800s and much of the city’s architecture, culture, and reputation is built on opium.

At the north end of the Bund turn left where Suzhou Creek meets the Huangpu River. The creek has long been a favourite dumping spot for bodies. In the 1930s Shanghai’s equivalent of Al Capone was Du Yuesheng. Known as ‘Big-Eared Du’ although never to his face, he and his associates ran the opium, prostitution, and protection rackets in the city and disposed of traitors, rivals, and enemies in Suzhou Creek – as did the Japanese during WW II, the Kuomintang in the civil war with the Communists, and the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution.

At the south end of the Bund the old city area around Yuyuan Garden is a must – the City God Temple with its red-faced idol watching over the luck of the citizens, the temple bazaar where you can find anything from sumptuous silk cheongsam dresses to Chairman Mao dirty playing cards. Walk across the Nine-Turns Bridge over the koi and turtle-strewn lake and stop off at the old-world Mid-Lake Teahouse with its rich wooden interior. Here Inspector Chen often confers with his retired police comrade Old Hunter over a pot of Dragon Well tea.

A wander through any Shanghai park in the morning is a step away from the skyscrapers and the madding crowd. My favourite, and nearest to where I’m staying, is Zhongshan Park. Here you can find calligraphers practising their ancient art, meticulously daubing the characters in water onto the flagstones only to have their work evaporate within a few minutes. How Zen is that? Nearby Tai Chi practitioners float through the space they occupy while further on a group of pensioners line-dance to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and an erhu (two-string fiddle) player competes serenely with Billy Ray.

Finally, check out the glorious old mansion on Julu Road in the French Concession that is now the home of the Shanghai Writers Association. Ivy climbs the pillars, water cascades in the ornate fountain, peace and creativity seeps from the walls, and Chief Inspector Chen reflects upon Shanghai society – old and new, good and bad.

Getting Warmer will be launched at Beaufort Street Books on Tuesday 12 November.

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