Despite the deluge of novels about World War II that has characterized the last few years, the period leading up to the war on the Pacific Front has received far less attention. One welcome exception is the Death in Shanghai series penned by Garrett Hutson, the latest book of which is No Accidental Death (Warfleigh Publishing, 2021).
The series revolves around Douglas Bainbridge, a naval intelligence officer assigned to a two-year immersion program in Chinese language and culture. Doug has defied the expectations of his affluent but rigid parents by joining the US Navy instead of taking over the family business, and although he has already developed fluency in Mandarin, he is not emotionally prepared for the rich and varied life that awaits him in Shanghai’s International Settlement when he arrives in May 1935. It doesn’t help that he has barely unpacked his suitcases before a childhood friend, met by chance in a bar, winds up dead in the streets—with the local police all too willing to assign responsibility for the murder to Doug. Doug sets out to clear his name in that first novel, The Jade Dragon, in the process establishing a chain of tangled alliances and favors that help him through the sequel, Assassin’s Hood.
By the time No Accidental Death opens in July 1937, Doug has completed his immersion program and moved on to his dream job as intelligence officer on a naval vessel in the Yangtze fleet. His new position takes him away from Shanghai more than he likes, but it remains his home port. He’s eager to disembark and reunite with his beloved Lucy Kinzler and his cohort of friends. But soon a crewman from Doug’s ship is killed under mysterious circumstances and the Fleet Admiral charges Doug with solving the crime. Once again, Doug must place duty above pleasure—this time in the midst of an ongoing battle between the Japanese Navy and the Chinese National Army for the control of both Shanghai and Beijing.
These are fast-moving, well-written murder mysteries with a refreshing take on the complexities of Chinese culture in the period leading up to the Japanese invasion of 1937. The characters have enough disagreements and flaws to keep them interesting, and the theme of various characters’ homosexuality and Doug’s growing acceptance of them is well handled. They even add something to that massive literature on World War II!
Garrett Hutson writes upmarket historical mysteries and spy fiction, driven by flawed characters who are moving and unforgettable. He lives in Indianapolis with his husband, four adorable dogs, two odd-ball cats, and too many fish to count. No Accidental Death (Death in Shanghai 3) is his most recent novel.
C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her latest book, Song of the Sisters, appeared in January 2021.