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Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a…

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the… (original 2011; edition 2013)

by Paul French

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Title:Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China
Authors:Paul French
Info:Penguin Books (2013), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Read 2013, Own, ARC, Your library, eBook
Tags:fiction, netgalley, arc, nonfiction, history, china, 1930s, japanese invasion, murder, prostitution, drugs, true crime, WWII

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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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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 |
Fantastic is all I can say! In the middle of it I read the ending, but I still wanted to read the rest of it. Paul French writes in such a clear, concise way that it's almost as if I'm reading a thriller. He doesn't go too much into the historical background, but enough for you know that there are tensions between the factions within the city. I highly recommend it! ( )
  macart3 | Oct 22, 2014 |
On the eve of Japanese occupation of Beijing (Peking), a young English girl is found brutally murdered, a crime that officially remains unsolved.

Paul French presents the facts of this horrific murder against the backdrop of daily life in Peking, where mixed in with the Chinese live White Russians, Jews fleeing Europe, the diplomatic staff from various Western countries, and China hands, ex-pats who have lived in China for years. (The father of murdered Pamela Werner is one of these old hands.) French describes a city with where opium dens and brothels nestle up against the homes of the wealthy westerners, where the locals fear fox spirits and everyone anxiously anticipates the arrival of Japanese forces. If you are at all interested in China or Chinese history, this book is rich with details.

French presents the facts of the murder and its investigation in a clinical way, and offers a plausible solution. However, when he portrays the people involved in the case, the narration falls flat. They never became much more than two-dimensional to me. The details about Peking were what kept me reading, not the details of the crime. It's also a confusing case, with many suspects, lots of movement throughout the night of the murder, and several important clues. It would have been helpful if French had supplied some explanatory materials, such as a map of the area and a list of all the people involved and their relationships to one another.

Despite these flaws, this was still a highly readable book with much to interest those of us who are fascinated by China.

I read this for the 2014 GeoCAT challenge (East Asia). ( )
  sturlington | Sep 15, 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 |
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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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