The story takes place in Interwar Era Shanghai – 1935 to be specific – when is at peace, but there are tremors rumbling below the surface. Doug Bainbridge is a recruit for the American Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and is tasked with learning Chinese dialects. Doug is likable enough and has an “everyman” feel to him, despite being from the upper classes. While in Shanghai, he meets with an old friend, Tim McIntyre, a reporter who is exposing the corruption and political intrigue within the city.
The crux of the novel takes a little while to get going, but in the meantime, we get situated in 1935 Shanghai. We follow Doug on his daily routine as he gets comfortable to the layout of the city, and slowly take in the tumultuous politics that is turning the city into a powder keg. One night, Doug accompanies Tim to a club – the titular Jade Dragon – but when he steps out for a breath of fresh air, Tim is murdered. The assailant escapes and the Police don’t seem particularly eager to solve the case. Tim – after all – we a muckraker who’d made many enemies with his exposes.
Doug is determined to find out who murdered his friend. But the list of suspects is quite long – the Japanese Secret Service, the Chinese Secret Service, the Green Gang, corrupt police officers, Chinese Communists, and the list goes on. Garett Hutson seamlessly weaves historical events and details into the narrative, such a subplot involving the Korean Provisional Government, which was located in Shanghai. It’s an interesting aspect that hasn’t been covered widely in English-language fiction.
The book really reminded me of the Mr. Moto series and similar novels from the 1930s, such as That Evening in Shanghai. In these types of stories, an American gets mixed up in intrigue, murder, and double-dealings in an Asian setting. Just like Doug, the protagonists of those books have to play amateur detective to unravel the mystery they’ve found themselves plunged into. In that aspect, The Jade Dragon feels like a lost book from the 1930s and one that will entertain mystery fans.
Garrett Hutson Interview
So many interesting details! The presence of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, along with the significant Japanese presence in the International Settlement, was only one of many bits of political intrigue that pulled me in. Japan had ruled Korea for twenty-five years by the time of my story, and the Korean Provisional Government coordinated resistance activities from their base in Shanghai. It seemed natural that Japanese agents would recruit spies to infiltrate the Korean resistance, and I found a way to work that into the larger mystery surrounding the murder of Doug Bainbridge’s friend.