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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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4784121,584 (3.82)64
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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Midnight in Peking. How the murder of a young Englishwoman haunted the last days of Old China and The badlands. Decadent playground of Old Peking are two closely related books, authored by Paul French, the editor of the in-house publication series of the Royal Asiatic Society. The badlands. Decadent playground of Old Peking is a small booklet that describes the seedy area of gambling houses, cabarets, brothels and opium dens directly to the east of the Legation Quarter in Beijing during the 1920s -- 1930s. This area is the setting of the drama in Midnight in Peking. How the murder of a young Englishwoman haunted the last days of Old China.

For a long time, foreigners had the position, almost as untouchables, but also in a sense of neglect. The Chinese mainly tend to see the foreign presence as a pollution, and tend to ignore it as well as they can. During the late years of the Qing dynasty diplomats lived in the Legation Quarter, and a relatively small number of foreigners lived in other parts of the city, notably George Ernest Morrison who lived in Wangfujing Street, then called Morrison Street, Sir Edmund Backhouse and Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston, tutor of Puyi. These people were sinologists and newspapermen. A more colourful riff-raff of Russians and other foreigners resided in the seedy quarter known as the badlands north of the Hadamen Gate. It was in this area that the young Pamela Werner, daughter of a sinologist and diplomat, looked for adventure and met with a gruesome death.

Midnight in Peking. How the murder of a young Englishwoman haunted the last days of Old China describes the events and points at the most likely culprit at whose hands Pamela met with her death. It is a chilling story, which French pieced together from the archive of Pamela's father and circumstantial other evidence. The book is written in the style of a detective story, but still sufficiently factual to pass as a hybrid between scholarly work and popular science. ( )
  edwinbcn | Oct 7, 2016 |
All the traditional elements of a great murder mystery are here: exotic locale in 1930s Peking, West vs East, a dead young woman who was a bit of a rebel, corrupt or ineffective police, cover-ups, an obsessive father, seamy underbelly of Peking populated by thugs, slimy rich guys, pimps and working girls. A story that could easily have been shifted overseas and written up as fiction by Ian Rankin. ARC from Penguin via Goodreads giveaway. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
I've read good things about Paul French's books and looked forward to reading this one - a true story of the murder of a young woman in Peking in 1935, the bungled official police investigation and how her determined father finally solved the crime. This story has everything: sex, drugs, alcohol,corrupt politicians and decadent colonial residents, so it should have been a rip-roaring read. Yet somehow it wasn't.

French has investigated all the facts, but he tells his story in a clinical passionless manner that I never truly got caught up in what should have been a truly riveting story. Maybe this should story would have been better done in the hands of Erik Larsen. ( )
  etxgardener | Dec 19, 2015 |
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 |
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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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Book description
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

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0670080926, 0143567527

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