The 11.10am to Beijing left on time, gliding out of Shanghai’s cavernous high-speed rail terminal and darting north through the cheerless suburban sprawl. On board the sleek, white bullet train sat an unlikely trio of Europeans, one of whom held the key to a real-life political thriller so frightening and tangled it has left all those trying to decipher it both gripped and unnerved. Only two of the trio would make it to their final destination.
As the G126 hurtled towards the Chinese capital on 20 January, at speeds of up to 350km an hour, the latest dramatic chapter in a surreal two-year saga was about to unfold. For one of the passengers was Gui Minhai, a portly Swedish publisher once famed for his scandalous tomes about the leaders of the world’s second largest economy.