This book is a fantastically detailed piece of factual historical research, which uses the life and times of one Maurice Tinkler as a vehicle to describe life in and around the International settlement of Shanghai in the early to middle 1900s from the perspective of a Shanghai Police Officer.
This is more than an autobiography of one man molded by his experiences in service of the British Empire, some aspects of which are sad such as his lost love who clearly never really forgot him and the harsher side of colonial living such as Tinkler's overtly racist attitude to the Chinese and his disdain for the Sikh and Chinese Police Officers.
The references provided with this book are quite exemplary to the point of creating a book within a book, many references indicting other possible routes of research and interest, giving the impression (to me at least) that this work could easily have been an edited down version of a Masters or Doctoral thesis.
Given the author's background and the nature of the funding for this research, the academic style of writing is entirely forgivable, given as it does to maintaining the flow of reading but it clearly leans heavily away from being a quick read.
Rightly or wrongly however, I felt that at times that some information could have been added as much because there was a reference available to support it, as to the support it gave the issue being discussed, which at times prompted the question `where are we going with this'?
That said, this is a remarkable piece of work given the depth and breadth of detail and supporting information it contains which quite rightly contributed to this book being awarded the first Institute of Historical Research prize in 2000.
As a side note and not necessarily a criticism, there appears to be more references to various topics within the text itself than included in the index, (Fairbairn & Sykes being examples) whether this is replicated in other areas in unclear.
I found this book to be both completely engrossing and yet at times hard going as we meandered into side issues which may say more about me as a reader than Mr. Bickers as a writer.
I would consider this work to be essential reading for anyone with an interest in the day to day workings of the Shanghai Municipal Police and Colonial Police life in general, especially when the settlement was taken over by the occupying Japanese forces and the obvious conflict in interests this caused the officers.
The `off-hand' manner in which the British Government is reputed to have treated these officers after their release from internment is a book in its own right, however what is said makes interesting reading.
The concluding `Acknowledgements' section demonstrates that whilst Mr. Bickers quite correctly has his name on the front page, there are (as in any work of this nature) an extensive array of others without whom such work either could not be produced or would have resulted in this work looking and feeling entirely different.
Very seldom have I seen an author be so genuine and humble in this thanks to so many, which I consider to be to Mr. Bickers credit.
In my view this is an incredible work that deserves to be priced higher than it is but then what price knowledge and everyone likes a bargain.