Sunday 15 May 2016

Book Review: City of Shadows by M.J. Lee

Last Updated: 5 June 2021

City of Shadows by M.J. Lee book banner

AD* | A family has been found murdered in the heart of 1920s Shanghai. But what could have compelled them to open the door to their killer?

Inspector Danilov has always taken a unique approach to solving his cases. So, when he’s asked to investigate the violent death of a fellow police officer, killed in action, he doesn’t think twice about turning his attention to a different case altogether: the brutal murder of the Lee family, found massacred in their own home.

How could the deaths of an ordinary family account for a shooting halfway across the city? And what clues lie with the letter found clasped in the dead girl’s hand? Inspector Danilov’s instincts tell him he’s close. But when the investigation reveals deep corruption at Shanghai’s core, Danilov faces a choice: probe further, and expose the evil underbelly of the city? Or shy from duty…and keep the few people he loves safe?

City of Shadows by M.J. Lee book cover

First things first - I haven't read Death in Shanghai, the first book in the series. But does that matter? No. Although it is technically a sequel, City of Shadows can easily be read as a standalone. Admittedly you miss out on introductions to the main characters, but it's easy enough to pick things up as you go along.

I love reading a good murder mystery or a crime thriller - both of which this book is, but the thing I found to be most unusual about City of Shadows was actually the setting. Personally, I haven't read a lot of books, much less crime books, that are set anywhere outside of the UK, US or Scandinavia. So with that in mind, it was a very refreshing change to read this. City of Shadows is set in Shanghai - and 1920s Shanghai no less - which adds another intriguing level of history to the novel, which I loved reading about.

The setting makes the story

Perhaps sparked by the setting, location and time period, I found the racial tensions and struggle for equality fascinating. It by no means dominates the story, but it is still an integral part of the book, especially as certain events rely on these human struggles to make sense in the world of the novel. The sheer mix of people from all over the world, different backgrounds, classes, even dialects, all helps to shape the version of Shanghai which is portrayed to the reader. We see Shanghai as a bustling, vibrant, yet sometimes dangerous city - a city vividly brought to life by its inhabitants.

Inspector Danilov is a good character - if a little repetitive. I found the whole subplot about his family distracting and unnecessary, if I'm honest - perhaps because I haven't read book one, I just didn't feel invested in his personal story beyond his job and the case. However, the cast of supporting characters was just as vibrant as the city they inhabit. From Danilov's sidekick Strachan to the Lee family, to a wide cast of various criminals, they each helped to weave the threads of the story together. The idea of having multiple narrators (switching between each other without introduction) could have been disastrously confusing, yet it worked well, mirroring hectic Shanghai life even in the actual writing itself.

City of Shadows is a solid crime thriller, brought to life by its cleverly used location. The book is available to buy now.

Rating: 3 stars

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* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading City of Shadows? Let me know in the comments below!

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