And The City Swallowed Them

A longform true crime story from the writers' cooperative Deca. 

In 2008, Canadian model Diana O'Brien was stabbed to death in a Shanghai stairwell just twelve days after arriving in the city on a three-month modeling contract. The actions of both police investigators and O'Brien's Chinese modeling agent soon aroused suspicion, as O'Brien's family sought information in China's opaque legal system. Ultimately, their quest would put them face to face with O'Brien's accused killer.


At once a page-turning murder mystery and a work of deep investigation, And The City Swallowed Them is based on dozens of interviews with investigators, models, and both the victim's and the convicted murderer's families. The book moves from Shanghai's back alleys to the seedy underbelly of high fashion, where young models travel alone to strange cities, often with falsified work papers, and sleep ten to an apartment between cover shoots. Set against the backdrop of Shanghai's explosive urbanization, the work also explores the world of China's liudong renkou, or floating population, where the hopes of newcomers from poor villages often turn to dust -- leading some to horribly desperate acts.

And The City Swallowed Them overturns assumptions about both the glamorous world of international modeling and China’s feared justice system, where the conviction rate for criminals is 99.9 percent. More than a true crime story, And The City Swallowed Them lays bare powerful forces that send two families on a collision course from distant sides of the Pacific.

Read an excerpt in Foreign Policy.

Praise for And The City Swallowed Them

"By developing each arc along the collision course and detailing the range of social forces that contributed to the tragedy, Hvistendahl shows how essential and illuminating the best long-form journalism can be." —Porter Shreve, San Francisco Chronicle

"The versatile and talented Mara Hvistendahl...[brings] specific settings and distinctive individuals vividly to life in a manner that makes them seem utterly unique — yet also just like places and people the reader has encountered in totally different parts of the world.” —Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Los Angeles Review of Books

"A tragic and fascinating portrait of the unglamorous subculture often found in second-tier modeling markets around the world.” —Meredith Hattam, Fashionista

“The mystery had supposedly been solved, but very little explained. It’s a void that Mara Hvistendahl, a journalist and longtime resident of Shanghai, has filled with And The City Swallowed Them.” —Gwynn Guilford, Quartz

"What seems like a cut-and-dried crime story becomes, in Hvistendahl's capable hands, a tale of two young adults adrift in a city far from their rural homes...Hvistendahl turns the ambiguity at the heart of this crime into a clear-eyed account of how cities are transforming us in the twenty-first century...In this meticulously-researched account of two lonely young people whose lives erupted in deadly violence, we discover the human face of the urban future." —Annalee Newitz, io9

Where to buy

And The City Swallowed Them is the debut title from the writers' cooperative Deca. It is available in Amazon's Kindle Singles store in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and many other markets. It is also available through Deca's iOS app.

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If you are in China and are having trouble getting a copy through one of these outlets, please get in touch.