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Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China Hardcover – April 24, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780143121008
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143121008
  • ASIN: 0143121006
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (303 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“This is a good murder story, well told, with all the additional pleasures that a knowledgeable tour guide to old China can provide. Grateful readers could scarcely ask for more.”  – Joseph Kanon, author of Istanbul Passage, in The Washington Post

“Never less than fascinating… one of the best portraits of between-the-wars China that has yet been written.” – The Wall Street Journal

“Midnight in Peking is both a detective story and a social history, and therefore – as it should – always keeps the hunt for Pamela’s killers somewhere near the center of the narrative. [Paul French] is a wonderfully dexterous guide” – Jonathan Spence in The New York Review of Books

“A crime story set among sweeping events is reminiscent of Graham Greene, particularly The Third Man, while French's terse, tightly-focussed style has rightly been compared to Chandler. Midnight in Peking deserves a place alongside both these masters.” – The Independent

“A page-turning and fascinating true crime book. This is a genre-breaker that captures the atmosphere of 1930s Peking.” – The Bookseller [selected as One to Watch]

“…the most talked-about read in town this year.” – The New Yorker’s Page-Turner Blog

“Midnight in Peking is true-crime writing at its best, full of vivid characters, an exotic locale, secrets galore, and a truly bewildering mystery.” – The Christian Science Monitor

“…A compulsively readable true crime work in the tradition of Devil in the White City.” – The Atlantic.com

“Not only does Mr. French succeed in solving the crime, he resurrects a period that was filled with glitter as well as evil, but was never, as readers will appreciate, known for being dull.” – The Economist

“An engrossing read” – Oprah.com

“In today’s Beijing, French’s portrait feels surprisingly germane.” – The Los Angeles Times

“Part historical docudrama, part tragic opera… [French] tells this sorry tale with the skill of an Agatha Christie.” – The Financial Times

About the Author

Paul French lives in Shanghai, where he is a business advisor and analyst. He frequently comments on China for the English-speaking press around the world. French studied history, economics, and Mandarin at university and has an M.Phil. in economics from the University of Glasgow.


More About the Author

Paul French lives in Shanghai, where he is a business advisor and analyst. He frequently comments on China for the English-speaking press around the world. French studied history, economics, and Mandarin at university and has an M.Phil. in economics from the University of Glasgow.

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Customer Reviews

Well researched true story and extremely well written.
Lyn6024
Having lived in China for many years, an interest in history especially Chinese history, and an avid reader of mysteries, I thoroughly enjoyed "Midnight in Peking."
teacher
I highly recommend this as a good read and a true crime story.
Dutchgirl

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

119 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Kathleen Edwards on April 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Pamela Werner was a high-spirited, independent young woman living with her father in Peking, China during the late 1930s.
On a cold January night in 1937, Pamela was found brutally murdered at the foot of one of Peking's well-known landmarks - the Fox Tower.

Pre-world war II Peking was a stressful place to live. China was in the midst of a civil war and the Japanese had invaded and were waiting for the opportunity to capture the city.

Nerves were frayed. A cloud of doom hung over the streets. Even the well-protected foreign nationals were feeling the shifting of events. But the brutal murder of Pamela Werner kicked the anxieties of the city up several notches. Both the Chinese and foreign nationals fearfully wondered who could have butchered this innocent young girl.

Paul French's Midnight In Peking is a masterfully woven non-fiction murder mystery peopled with smug British diplomats, harried Scotland Yard detectives, Chinese police officers with mysterious agendas, an American dentist with degraded, lustful designs, and a beautiful young woman who isn't all that she seems.

French has done his research, and his findings from the papers of Pamela's father are most intriguing. Even after the British dropped the case, Werner doggedly pursued his daughter's murderer asking help from the Chinese and even the occupying Japanese. His determination to find his daughter's killer is inspiring.
Midnight In Peking reads like a true-to-life Agatha Christie with a lot more carnality. Peking, like most places, had a dark side that could lure a naïve young woman to her death, and French takes us there.

This is no stuffy history text.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on April 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The mutilated corpse of a foreigner found at the base of Fox Tower on January 8, 1937 posed a special problem for Peking police. The victim was a free-spirited young woman named Pamela Werner. When Pamela wasn't attending school in Tientsin, she lived in Peking with her adoptive father, Edward Werner, a scholar and former British consul. She had been beaten to death and then dumped at Fox Tower. Multiple wounds were inflicted post-mortem in an apparent attempt to dismember the body. Sections of her skin and some of her organs had been removed.

The task of investigating the crime fell to Han Shih-ching, with the assistance of Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis, who headed the police in the British Concession in Tientsin. Dennis delved into Edward Werner's troubled past, learning of the problems he caused in his various diplomatic postings before he got sacked, a history suggestive of mental instability. Gossip -- the favorite sport of the expat community -- suggested that death and tragedy were Werner's constant companions, including the suspicious death of his wife.

A little more than a third of the narrative has passed by before a promising suspect emerges, but if solving the crime were that easy there would be no story to tell -- at least not a story filled with drama and intrigue. Fortunately for the reader (less so for Han and Dennis), the British government increased its efforts to impede Dennis' investigation, suggesting that a cover-up, if not a full-blown conspiracy, was afoot. Brits Behaving Badly becomes a subtext, as does the concept of "saving face," a characteristic often associated with Asians but quite applicable to the British living and working in China.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By M. Sweeney on May 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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