The Shanghai Quartet

The Shanghai Quartet is a work in progress. Upon completion, this four volume set of interlocking novels will span a quarter century of Chinese history. Each volume is a stand-alone tale of Shanghai Noir. All of them sing an ode to Shanghai, a city too proud to ever be crushed by barbarians or war or revolution.

To read about the genesis of The Shanghai Quartet, look here. For a hint of the volumes yet to come, read on.

paris of the east

Shanghai decadence
Cover Shanghai Manhua no. 62 by Zhang Zhenyu. Image source:,_%22Untitled.%22_Shanghai_manhua_62_(June_29,_1929).jpg

In 1929, Shanghai is the height of decadence in the Far East.  As America collapses under the weight of the Great Depression,  Europe starts to burn. Shanghai fills with men and women with a shady past and an uncertain future.

Enter Max Lazerich, American stowaway. The Smell of Opium is his story of the outsider who finds friendship with the shy teenager Song Kang and love in the unlikely form of a Chinese cook named Wong Jin.

the battle of shanghai

Shanghai at war
Cropped cover of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle

But war is on its way. The Japanese occupy Manchuria in 1931. Slowly but surely, in the name of creating the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the imperial Japanese armies move south.

War with Japan is the backdrop to The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. On the ballroom floor and in the jazz bars, the dancer Song Anyi shines. Yet beneath her fragile appearance lies a dark desire to harm herself. Neither Cho the turtle nor Kang her brother can save Anyi from the fate she chooses as the Japanese occupy Shanghai in the summer of 1937.


Revolutionary Shanghai
Zhang Xioagang, Bloodlines Big Family 3. Image source:

By 1953, the war against Japan has faded into memory. But the scars of the civil war are still fresh. The Nationalists have been driven out of the country but the Communists continue to fight.

Peace Court is a battle between Jin and her daughter Song Li, the old ways and the nascent Communist state, the loyalty Jin still feels for her beloved friend Anyi and the hatred she now nurtures for Kang.


Shanghai under Mao
Image source:

In 1954, more than two million prisoners have disappeared into China’s vast network of labor camps.

Kang is one of its prisoners. Laogai is the tale of his labor camp, hidden inside a swampy mosquito-infested area called the Great Northern Wilderness. There, Kang encounters the many enemies of the Communist state: a veterinarian turned prison doctor, a common thief, a Buddhist monk, a Uighur.

A prison guard takes an unnatural interest in Kang.  He offers Kang the one thing his heart craves: a way to send a letter to his beloved daughter Song Li.

other published works

The prospect of writing 4 interlocking novels is daunting enough. But my ambitions don’t end there.

I’ve been writing for most of my adult life, albeit with fits and starts. But I’m on a roll now. For insight into my poetry past, my short fiction present and possible essay future, you can read more here.