Today I have the pleasure of joining in with M J Lee’s The Killing Time blog blitz!
Many thanks to Ellie Pilcher, at Canelo, for the opportunity to take part.
The Killing Time
M J Lee
Previous Books (if applicable):
The Murder Game
23rd April 2018
As tensions simmer in Shanghai, children go missing…
Shanghai 1932: Inspector Danilov hasn’t recovered from the death of his child… but across a Shanghai riven with communal tensions, children are going missing.
Missing, and then murdered. Who is responsible? Why have the children’s bodies been exhibited for all to see?
Just as Danilov thinks the stakes couldn’t be higher there is a new dimension, Japan, a rising power flexing its muscles. In fractious Shanghai, an explosion is long overdue. With the clock ticking can Danilov and his assistant Strachan solve the case? The fate of Shanghai may be at stake. So is Danilov’s job… And his sanity.
The latest instalment of the Inspector Danilov mysteries will leave you breathless. Perfect for fans of Philip Kerr or Rory Clements.
Outside on the street, a cigarette already rolled and ready to be lit, Danilov breathed in the fresh, coal-smoke-riddled air of a Shanghai winter. It was cold, with a dampness that slithered through the inspector’s thin overcoat and lodged itself between his ribs.
Opposite, an old man selling roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes was stirring his pot, releasing the fragrant smells of charcoal and roasting vegetables. Trolley buses, cars, lorries and small motorised carts pumped fumes into the streets between the crowded houses, the gases hanging over the city like a dirty brown shroud. Infused through it all, like the top note of an expensive perfume, was the stench of mankind. Twelve million of them, crowded into the narrow streets and alleys, loving, working, living and killing. Each person adding their own particular addition to the fragrant assault on the nostrils that was Shanghai.
Danilov didn’t notice the smells any more. In his five years in the city, his nose had become accustomed to the peculiar odour of the place. It was the stench of death he couldn’t stand. That and the formaldehyde Dr Fang used in such copious quantities.
Across the road, a tea merchant was opening his barrels of tea: oolong, lapsang souchong, jasmine, tit koon yum, green tea, pu erh. With reverence, he placed compressed cakes of tea in the shop window, each wrapped in white muslin with colourful designs on the cover. The best teas from all of China, Japan, Ceylon and India.
Danilov lit the cigarette and inhaled. Immediately the sterile formaldehyde was expelled from his lungs, to be replaced by the warmth of nicotine. He was happy to be out of the morgue. He respected Dr Fang and his work immensely, but anybody who spent his life surrounded by corpses was not a person who was comfortable with life.
His thoughts were interrupted by Strachan stamping his feet, trying vainly to force some warmth into them.
‘Not a pretty sight, sir.’
‘They never are, Strachan. And it never gets easier, no matter how many you see.’
‘The missing ear… ’
‘Not cut off in a struggle, but removed ante mortem, Dr Fang said.’
‘He should know.’
In the distance they could hear chanting and the sound of cymbals and drums. Danilov ignored the sound, taking another long drag on his cigarette.
‘And why mutilate the boy’s face after death?’
‘To conceal his identity?’
‘But why? What does Inspector Sheehan’s report say?’
‘Not a lot, sir.’ Strachan held up an extremely thin brown paper file. ‘I don’t believe he had time to complete a full report before he was called away. His constable is doing it for him as we speak.’
The chanting was getting louder. A small group of young men, students possibly, came round the corner carrying home-made signs, accompanied by a man crashing a pair of cymbals and another playing the raucous sounds of a Chinese flute. They advanced along the pavement, forcing pedestrians to jump out of their way into the street.
For a moment, even the traffic stopped to watch them, before continuing on its way, cars, lorries and rickshaw drivers inching their way forward.
Strachan ignored them and read from the file. ‘The body was found at a building site in Hong Kew.’
‘The Japanese area?’
Shanghai, and especially the International Settlement, was a series of small villages rather than one city. The Japanese lived in Hong Kew. The English and Americans in the area sound of Soochow Creek. The French in their own concession. The Jews around the Ohel Moshe synagogue. All the other nationalities, and Chinese from every province in the country, were spread amongst them. Surrounding everything was China itself, the sick man of Asia, weakened by the debilitating diseases of corruption, warlords, factions, poverty and the galloping virus of Japanese militarism.
Within the International Settlement, tension between the competing nationalities, dialects and races was always bubbling beneath the surface, with the Shanghai Municipal Police providing a thin barrier of protection, like a sticking plaster over a deep, gaping wound.
Recently, though, the Japanese annexation of Manchuria, and the subsequent influx of refugees, had destroyed the careful balance in the city, bringing all the tensions to the surface.
Danilov raised his head to listen to the cymbals and drums. It reminded him so much of Minsk in 1917 after the tsar had been deposed.
‘Let’s be careful with this one, Strachan, it smells almost as bad as a Shanghai sewer.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Strachan returned to the crime notes and scanned them, reading out the details. ‘There were no marks on the boy’s clothing and no ID. According to the report, all they found was a nail in the right-hand pocket.’
Danilov held up his right hand with the thumbnail showing.
‘No, sir, an iron nail, about two inches long.’
‘Strange, Strachan, very strange. Why would an educated boy carry an iron nail in his pocket?’
Strachan shrugged his shoulders. ‘Sheehan had the crime team examine and photograph the scene. The pictures and fingerprint report should be back from the lab soon.’
‘Get them as soon as you can. And where are the clothes he was wearing? Dr Fang mentioned nothing about clothes.’
‘I’ll check it out, sir.’
‘When you get back, give that constable a kick in the backside. He should have finished the report before he left the station last night. You would have done so.’
Strachan thought about saying something but eventually decided it wasn’t worth the effort. The inspector was right: he would have stayed to finish it.
The small crowd of students stopped outside the tea shop. The cymbals and flutes continued to play while three men detached themselves from the main group and entered the building. The detachment was headed by a tiny Chinese man wearing a blue cord cap, accompanied by two stockier men, their muscles evident even through their padded blue jackets.
Danilov stared across the road. ‘What’s going on here, Strachan?’
Link to Book:
M J Lee has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a university researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.
He has spent 25 years of his life working outside the north of England, in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning advertising awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and the United Nations.
While working in Shanghai, he loved walking through the old quarters of that amazing city, developing the idea behind a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Pyotr Danilov, set in the 1920s.
When he’s not writing, he splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, practising downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake, and wishing he were George Clooney.
Author Social Media Links Twitter: @WriterMJLee