Shanghai, 1926. A city of British Imperial civil servants, American gun-runners, Russian princesses and Chinese gangsters, where heroin is available on room service and everything is for sale. Exotic, sexually liberated and pulsing with life, it is a place and time where anything seems possible.
For Richard Field, it represents a brave new world away from the past he is trying to escape. Seconded to the police force, his first moment of active duty is a brutal crime scene. A young White Russian woman, Lena Orlov, lies spreadeagled on her bed, sadistically murdered. As he begins to peer through the glittering surface to the murky depths beneath, Field sees a world beyond the glamour of the city's expatriate life - a world where everything has its price, and where human life is merely another asset to barter.
The key to the investigation seems to be Lena's neighbour, Natasha Medvedev. But can Field trust someone for whom self-preservation is the only goal? And is it wise to fall in love when there is every sign that Natasha herself may be the next victim?
In a city where reality is a dangerous luxury, Field is driven into the darkness beyond the dazzle of society to a world where the basest of human needs are met and where the truth seems certain to be a fatal commodity . . .