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Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a…

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the… (2011)

by Paul French

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This Edgar Award-winning book is an utterly compelling and very disturbing account of the 1937 murder of Pamela Werner, set against the foreboding backdrop of Peking on the cusp of monumental change. Pamela's murder was particularly gruesome, and a tricky thing to investigate: she was an English girl, which required the involvement of the British legation, yet the crime was committed outside the Legation Quarter, which made it within Chinese jurisdiction. The diplomatic maneuvering made investigation very difficult, as did nationalistic face-saving on all sides. The interactions of so many groups of people in a relatively small area: legations of wealthy British, American, French, German, Spanish, and Dutch; along with Japanese military and the unease they brought (justifiably, considering the full-scale Japanese assault and occupation of China later that year); desperately impoverished and stateless White Russian exiled from Bolshevik Russia; and the nearby Badlands -- den of opium, heroin, prostitution and other vice -- made this an area of volatility and subterfuge. No one was what they seemed on the surface: not Pamela, not her father, not her friends, not the investigators, no one.

This is a great, if disturbing read. The depth of research is astonishing, yet the book reads like a thriller. The author's skill is impressive, but more impressive is the body of research collected at the time by one key player, especially given the condition and confusion of China in the late 1930s. This is fascinating true history.
  AMQS | Apr 4, 2015 |
French pieces together the events of a murder that scandalized Peking on the brink of a full Japanese invasion. Pamela Werner was days away from turning twenty when her body was found at the base of the Fox Tower. Her father, a disgraced and eccentric British man, looked to the joint investigation of Chinese and British officials to bring justice to his only child's death. However, those officials are undermined by various governments and internal political issues and no conclusion was reached. Her heart-broken father continued his own investigation, even after the Japanese took over the city.

French created a masterful work. Not only does he recreate Pamela as a bright young lady who simply wanted to go skating with friends, but he also makes Peking a character in its own right. It was a city devastated several times over through the 19th century, and then on the verge of new turmoil, the international quarter continued its decadent ways. It was refuge for White Russians and European Jews and so many struggling Chinese from the countryside. Japanese soldiers and spies were already in the city, though they had not formally occupied it. Everyone knew that was coming. Pamela's death occurred at a terrible time--as if there is any choice time to be murdered--and would have been utterly forgotten if not for French's book. I can see why this won the Edgar Award. ( )
1 vote ladycato | Mar 5, 2015 |
Great beginning and end, very slow and boring middle part of this book. My favorite part were the photographs at the end. ( )
  lincolnpan | Dec 31, 2014 |
January, 1937. Peking was on the verge of invasion by the Japanese; China was on the verge of a Communist revolution; the world was on the verge of war. One 19-year-old Englishwoman was found dead not far from her home, her corpse mutilated, and the joint investigation of Chinese police and a representative of the British legation began. The murder was never solved, but author Paul French brings forward little-known archives to point the way towards the killers.

This is my first foray into true crime, a genre I do not have a natural bent towards as I am completely wimpy when it comes to violence. And while most of this book focuses on the investigation and events after the murder, what happened to Pamela Werner was truly horrible, the description of her body after death pulls no punches. There is, however, quite a lot of food for thought - foreigners living in China, the sordid underbelly of a city that no one wanted to talk about, Chinese and British working together (or not) to solve a murder - which makes it an interesting nonfiction choice for a book group. ( )
  bell7 | Dec 17, 2014 |
tabloid sensationalism masquerading as a history book
  revliz | Nov 11, 2014 |
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The north wind came in the night, ice covers the waters: Once our young sister has gone she will never return. - Traditional Song of the Canal People of Northern China Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight. - Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Fautus

The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness. - Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes
For the innocent. For Pamela
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The eastern section of old Peking has been dominated since the fifteenth century by a looming watchtower, built as part of the Tartar Wall to protect the city from invaders.
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Peking in 1937 is a heady mix of privilege and scandal, opulence and opium dens, rumors and superstition. The Japanese are encircling the city, and the discovery of Pamela Werner's body sends a shiver through already nervous Peking. Is it the work of a madman? One of the ruthless Japanese soldiers now surrounding the city? Or perhaps the dreaded fox spirits? With the suspect list growing and clues sparse, two dectectivres-one British and one Chinese-race against the clock to solve the crime before the Japanese invade and Peking as they know it is gone forever. Can they find the killer in time? (ARC)
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Historian and China expert Paul French uncovers the truth behind the notorious murder of Pamela Werner, and offers a rare glimpse of the last days of colonial Peking.

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An edition of this book was published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0670080926, 0143567527

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