I think some of my favorite kinds of stories are about unsolved mysteries - books that return to murders, lost treasure, and the like years or decades after all the witnesses of the time have been laid to rest, and bring a new eye to the scene. French takes an unsolved murder in Peking in 1937 and paints in a city on the edge of a new and unknown era - the looming Japanese threat of invasion, hard-partying high life, the foreign bureaucrats lost in internal feuds and their desire to not sully the reputation of their little community, and finally a man and his savagely murdered daughter. It would be easy to get lost in any one of those threads but the author managed to balance them all as the story moves through the unravelling of the Chinese rule in Peking and the public and private investigations of the crime.
Pamela Werner was just nineteen when her body was found at the Fox Tower, a locale believed to be haunted by the Chinese. The uneasy partnership of the Chinese police who had jurisdiction over the site, and the British concession detective appointed by the Legation opens the story. Quickly it comes to light that the Werner household isn't the usual; Pamela's father is a former Consul living in a hutong outside the Legation grounds, a solitary scholar away on his explorations for months at a time. And Pamela has her own secrets as a young woman looking to shape her own life as she comes of age...
Thoroughly researched but never academic, always lively, a good read if you enjoy mysteries, Chinese history or just an engaging tale and excellent sleuthwork by the author.
Maps, photos, an audio walk of the relevant sights, and other extras are available on the Midnight in Peking website.