England, 1930s. Christopher Banks has become the country's most celebrated detective, his cases the talk of London society. Yet one unsolved crime has always haunted him; the mysterious disappearance of his parents, in Old Shanghai, when he was a small boy. Now, as the world lurches towards total war, Banks realises the time has come for him to return to the city of his childhood and at last solve the mystery - that only by his doing so will civilisation be saved from the approaching catastrophe.
Moving between London and Shanghai of the inter-war years, When We Were Orphans is a story of memory, intrigue and the need to return; of a childhood vision of the world surviving deep into adulthood, indelibly shaping and distorting a person's life.