Shanghai Maps of the 1920s and 1930s

A map of Shanghai. I think it's from Paul French's book on Carl Crow. Its beautifully drawn

A map of Shanghai. I think it's from Paul French's book on Carl Crow. Its beautifully drawn

I love old maps, particularly city maps. They are a pictorial insight into a city and it's environment. They are not real, no map ever is. Rather they are a representation of how the designer's imagined the city to look. Even in the choice of what to represent, the designer and illustrator, Carl Crow and V Kovalsky, reveal who they are talking to - tourists to the city. The choice of subject matter, the chinoiserie, even the lettering, are selling the image that Shanghai wanted to portray. And sitting in the middle, dominating the river in both size and prominence, are the ships of the Western fleets, displaying graphically who controlled the city.

In the Inspector Danilov novels I use three maps to imagine the city. This one, a more detailed street map of the time and a map from an earlier tourist directory. All give me slightly different vision of the city. I have tried to be as authentic as I can, detailing the streets and areas that Danilov and Strachan inhabit and walk around. For me, the city is as important a character in the novels as any of the people, possibly more so.

I love maps, in all their shapes and sizes. It's no coincidence that the first explorers proclaimed their ownership of new territories by mapping them. And the Pope, when he wanted to divide the world between the Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence, simply drew line down the centre of a globe, dividing the New World in half.

Maps show more than just streets and alleys, blocks and buildings, they show who owned what and when. They are a guide to the minds of their creators as they are a guide to the reader.

Finally, I'm not sure if anybody owns copyright to this image, but if they do, simply message me and I will be happy to attribute it.

My 2016 Crime Reading Challenge

There seems to be a lot of reading challenges floating around on the internet at the moment, but most don't appeal to me. So I decided to create my own.

In 2009, the Guardian published a list of what it considered the best 1000 books ever published. Part of this list included the best crime novels. For some reason they chose 147 ( according to my count but I ran out of fingers.)

Now, it felt to me that the compiler had never read anything past 1963. There was no Peter James or Jo Nesbo. No Val McDermid or Peter May. And not a snifter of Stuart MacBride or Benjamin Black. Whilst historical crime hardly got a look in. Where was Lindsey Davis or Ellis Peters, Isobel Robertson or S J Parris, M J Trow or Paul Doherty?

Nonetheless, it's a good list if a little old-fashioned. I've posted it below with the books I've already read in block letters. Apparently, I have read 60 of them already. Perhaps that shows a certain penchant for criminal behaviour.

Here's my challenge. I'm going to read 10 books from this list, preferably from authors I haven't seen before. I'll post the reviews on this site. I'm going to see if they really deserve their place on the list and determine if there are other books that deserve a place.

At the end of the year, I'm going to post my 50 best crime novels. I can't be arsed to find 147.

Why don't you have a go. Are these books really the best crime novels ever written?

My first book will be Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin. I haven't read him before, si to should be interesting. I'll post the review when I'm finished.



The 147 Best Crime Novels (according to the Guardian)


The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren

Fantomas by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre

The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

Epitaph for a Spy by Eric Ambler

Journey into Fear by Eric Ambler

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

Trent's Last Case by EC Bentley

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary E Braddon

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Greenmantle by John Buchan

The Asphalt Jungle by WR Burnett

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain

Double Indemnity by James M Cain

True History of the Ned Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Poetic Justice by Amanda Cross

The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

Last Seen Wearing by Colin Dexter

The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter

Ratking by Michael Dibdin

Dead Lagoon by Michael Dibdin

Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin

A Rich Full Death by Michael Dibdin

Vendetta by Michael Dibdin

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt

The Crime of Father Amado by José Maria de Eça de Queiroz

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

LA Confidential by James Elroy

The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy

A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Ellroy

Sanctuary by William Faulkner

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene

The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

The Third Man by Graham Greene

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

The King of Torts by John Grisham

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

The Glass Key by Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Fatherland by Robert Harris

Black Sunday by Thomas Harris

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen

The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V Higgins

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Bones and Silence by Reginald Hill

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household

Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles

Silence of the Grave by Arnadur Indridason

Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes

Cover Her Face by PD James

A Taste for Death by PD James

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman

Misery by Stephen King

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

The Constant Gardener by John le Carre

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

52 Pick-up by Elmore Leonard

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Cop Hater by Ed McBain

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Sidetracked by Henning Mankell

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

The Great Impersonation by E Phillips Oppenheim

The Strange Borders of Palace Crescent by E Phillips Oppenheim

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Toxic Shock by Sara Paretsky

Blacklist by Sara Paretsky

Nineteen Seventy Four by David Peace

Nineteen Seventy Seven by David Peace

The Big Blowdown by George Pelecanos

Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos

Lush Life by Richard Price

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

V by Thomas Pynchon

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Black and Blue by Ian Rankin

The Hanging Gardens by Ian Rankin

Exit Music by Ian Rankin

Judgment in Stone by Ruth Rendell

Live Flesh by Ruth Rendell

Dissolution by CJ Sansom

Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Le Sayers

The Madman of Bergerac by Georges Simenon

The Blue Room by Georges Simenon

The Laughing Policeman by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

The League of Frightened Men by Rex Stout

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

The Getaway by Jim Thompson

Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine

A Fatal inversion by Barbara Vine

King Solomon's Carpet by Barbara Vine

The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Native Son by Richard Wright

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Guest interview at Portobello Book Blog

Here's the interview that ran  last week in Portobello Book Blog. My thanks to Joanne for being a great host and asking some wonderful questions.


Today I’m very pleased to welcome Martin Lee, author of Death in Shanghai which was published on 10th September 2015. 

First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

I’ve spent most of my adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, I wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, I wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, I’ve written print and press ads, tv commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflake packets and hotel websites.

I’ve spent 25 years of my life working outside the North of England. In London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok and Shanghai, winning awards from Cannes, One Show, D&AD, New York and London Festivals, and the United Nations.

When I’m not writing, I split my time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with my daughter, practicing downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing I were George Clooney.

What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always written. There are three unpublished novels in my desk at home. For me, it was both a form of relaxation and an annoyance. Relaxation in that I could write what I wanted rather than working within the confines of a client’s brief. An annoyance in that there were these characters and people in my head that demanded to be placed on paper, to be brought to life on the page.

‘Death in Shanghai’ came about when I was working in that amazing city. Quite often, I just used to walk around the old city, looking at the art deco buildings and imagining what it was like to have lived there in the twenties and thirties.

Tell me about your journey to publication

Lots of the usual rejections from agents and then I approached a publisher, Carina. Within one week they had said yes, and a couple of months later the book was published. I think the default position of most agents is no. They are taking a risk with their time and energy. I received a lot of the ‘loved the book but can’t see a market for it right now’ sort of replies. With a publisher, it’s a quick yes or no, depending where the publisher sees their business developing. Carina were looking to build a stronger crime list, and my book appealed to them. I think publishing is a business like any other, maybe more than any other.

In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?

1920s Shanghai, where decadence and death stalk the art deco streets. The body of a blonde is found on the ‘Beach of Dead Babies’ and Inspector Danilov, a White Russian in the Shanghai Police, is called in to investigate is the starting point of the novel. But it really asks the question: How far would you go to catch a killer?

Do you have a work in progress just now?

I’ve just finished the second novel in the Danilov series, City of Shadows’. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon and will be launched on March 13th, 2016.

What’s your favourite book you’ve read so far this year? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!

Too many books, too little time. It’s got to be three;

  1. In crime, I loved Sarah Hilary’s ‘Somebody Else’s Skin’. She’s got that rare quality which is an original voice. too many crime novels are reading the same now. She’s unique and I love her for it.
  2. I recently re-read, ‘The Scots Quair’, a trilogy by Lewis Grassic Gibbon written in the thirties. I’m not a scot so the dialect was difficult but once I’d got over that, the books are amazing. Beautifully written with such a strong sense of place. Chris Guthrie has to be one of the best female characters ever written.
  3. I love great historical novels. Anything by Julian Rathbone is always worth reading. I just finished ‘Birth of a Nation’. Very funny, with a wonderful protagonist.

What are you reading just now? 

Janet Gleeson ‘The Thief Taker’. Beautifully written but I feel there are too many characters and differing viewpoints so far. We’ll see how it develops.

Tell me about your reading habits:  book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?

Anytime and anywhere. Both. Both. Both.

How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?

I can be contacted at, on Facebook at writermjlee, and on twitter at, you guessed it, writermjlee. I’m nothing if not original with my internet domain names.

And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?

Difficult. I’d have to be a woman character to see how it feels from a female perspective. Miss Marple maybe, what a mind to have.



Amazon UK:


You can read the full interview at

My thanks once again to Joanne.

It's time for a blog tour.

For the next week, I'm going to be on a worldwide blog tour, created by the amazing Jenny Marston at Neverland Blog Tours.

Here are the dates and the hosts if you would like to join in. It's been great fun so far and I've loved taking part.

Monday 14th December - Sunday 20th December

Mon 14th: Book Lover Worm
Lil Novelist
Tues 15th: Book Mood Reviews
Lynsey James
Weds. 16th: Neverland Blog Tours
Gina Dickerson
Thurs. 17th: Lynsey James
Brizzle Lass
Fri. 18th: Ali - The Dragon Slayer
Little Northern Soul
Sat. 19th: Nats Reading Cloud
Portobello Book Blog
Chick Library Cat
Sun. 20th: Jeras Jamboree

Please join us if you are available.