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Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the… (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Paul French

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Member:westwood
Title:Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China
Authors:Paul French
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (2012), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 272 pages
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Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French (2011)

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I'm really glad I've joined my non fiction book clubs because, with the exception of one, all of the selections have been delightful. Paul French's Midnight in Peking is no different. It tells the story of Pamela Werner, a 20 year old Englishwoman who was brutally murdered on the night of the Russian Christmas in 1937 in Peking.

When I say brutally murdered, there is definite emphasis on the term "brutally." Besides from the fact that Pamela's clothes were torn, her body was drained of its blood and her organs were removed including her heart, her bladder, one of her kidneys, and her liver.

The surgical brutality of the crime and because Pamela's father was Edward Theodore Chalmers Werner, a scholar and a former British consul who had lived in China since the 1880s a partnership was formed between Chinese detective Colonel Han Shih-ching and British detective Richard Dennis. This was certainly a high profile case: a young white woman was killed in China and each government wanted all their bases covered.

What French does beautifully is that he paints the world of Peking, China so very well. From the fox spirits legend to the paranoia the Chinese were experiencing from the different regimes changing hands every other week and the looming threat of Japanese occupation. Then, there are the things that hindered the murder case such as the British bureaucracy to the various codes of silence eminating from the very rich to the very poor, from the morally sound to the morally corrupt.

Parts of Peking, such as the British Legation, were very good but Peking was filled with various opium dens, brothels, and dangerous people who were petty, invincible, and knew how to prey on the weak. Midnight in Peking is heartbreaking tale but it shows that, despite the debauchery and economic turmoil, a father will do anything to find out who killed his only child. ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
I'm really glad I've joined my non fiction book clubs because, with the exception of one, all of the selections have been delightful. Paul French's Midnight in Peking is no different. It tells the story of Pamela Werner, a 20 year old Englishwoman who was brutally murdered on the night of the Russian Christmas in 1937 in Peking.

When I say brutally murdered, there is definite emphasis on the term "brutally." Besides from the fact that Pamela's clothes were torn, her body was drained of its blood and her organs were removed including her heart, her bladder, one of her kidneys, and her liver.

The surgical brutality of the crime and because Pamela's father was Edward Theodore Chalmers Werner, a scholar and a former British consul who had lived in China since the 1880s a partnership was formed between Chinese detective Colonel Han Shih-ching and British detective Richard Dennis. This was certainly a high profile case: a young white woman was killed in China and each government wanted all their bases covered.

What French does beautifully is that he paints the world of Peking, China so very well. From the fox spirits legend to the paranoia the Chinese were experiencing from the different regimes changing hands every other week and the looming threat of Japanese occupation. Then, there are the things that hindered the murder case such as the British bureaucracy to the various codes of silence eminating from the very rich to the very poor, from the morally sound to the morally corrupt.

Parts of Peking, such as the British Legation, were very good but Peking was filled with various opium dens, brothels, and dangerous people who were petty, invincible, and knew how to prey on the weak. Midnight in Peking is heartbreaking tale but it shows that, despite the debauchery and economic turmoil, a father will do anything to find out who killed his only child. ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
I won an advanced reading copy of this novel through the GoodReads First Reads programme.

French draws an interesting portrayal of Peking in the late 1930s and presents the sad details surrounding Pamela Werner's murder in a clear and accessible manner. I was especially interested by daily life in Peking, the way in which the police approached the investigation and the larger political issues that the inhabitants of the city faced with the Japanese approaching. I highly recommend this book for its informative take and for bringing the case of Pamela Werner to the fore. you could read my full review of the book over at my blog: http://www.caffeinatedlife.net/blog/2012/02/24/review-midnight-in-peking/ ( )
  caffeinatedlife | Jan 24, 2014 |
This was an informative account of a mysterious murder in Peking on the brink of the Japanese occupation. ( )
  krin5292 | Jan 5, 2014 |
This book ultimately left me flat. I really enjoyed the history about the region during this time. I am always amazed at how much is not commonly understood about things that are not really that old. I also enjoyed the middle of the book which was more of a detective story. From there the story kind of wandered, as it was set up as a detective story and then the detectives left. I realize that this was based on real events, so the author was obligated to tell these events as they occurred, however the shift in storytelling was unsatisfying. I am still very glad that I read this. This is a time and place that I knew very little about and this was very enlightening. ( )
  MLBowers | Nov 4, 2013 |
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Epigraph
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
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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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Penguin Australia

Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0670080926, 0143567527

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