Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

4.1 23
by Paul French

ISBN-10: 0143121006

ISBN-13: 2900143121007

Pub. Date: 04/24/2012

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Winner of the both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Non-Fiction Dagger

Chronicling an incredible unsolved murder, Midnight in Peking captures the aftermath of the brutal killing of a British schoolgirl in January 1937. The mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found at the base of the Fox Tower, which, according to local superstition,

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Winner of the both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Non-Fiction Dagger

Chronicling an incredible unsolved murder, Midnight in Peking captures the aftermath of the brutal killing of a British schoolgirl in January 1937. The mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found at the base of the Fox Tower, which, according to local superstition, is home to the maliciously seductive fox spirits. As British detective Dennis and Chinese detective Han investigate, the mystery only deepens and, in a city on the verge of invasion, rumor and superstition run rampant. Based on seven years of research by historian and China expert Paul French, this true-crime thriller presents readers with a rare and unique portrait of the last days of colonial Peking.

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Table of Contents

The Approaching Storm 3

The Body at the Fox Tower 11

The Police of Peking 15

Wild Dogs and Diplomats 35

The Investigation 47

Pamela 55

An Old China Hand 69

Armour Factory Alley 81

Cocktail Hour at the Wagons Lits 89

Into the Badlands 105

Of Rats and Men 119

Under Peking Earth 133

A Respectable Man of Influence 137

Radical Chic 149

The Element of Fire 163

The Rising Sun That Chills 169

Journey to the Underworld 175

Chuanpan Hutong 183

The Hunters 207

Invitation to a Party 223

The Wound That Wouldn't Heal 235

The Writing of Midnight in Peking 249

Acknowledgements 253

Sources 255

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Midnight in Peking : How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
shayrp76 More than 1 year ago
Peking China in 1937 was in turmoil. Opium dens, prostitution, and superstitions were just the everyday concerns. The bigger reality was that the Japanese were gearing up to barge into the city and the citizens were on alert. The murder of Pamela Werner could not have come at a worse time. With very few clues and reluctant witnesses a Chinese and a British detective have very little time to solve the gruesome murder. I immediately became captivated by Pamela Werner’s story and was invested in learning the conclusion. All of the little details that went into explaining the problems surrounding those who lived in the city and all of the politics that went into suppressing evidence from investigators gave me insight into the frustration of Pamela’s case. The author worked hard to tell Pamela Werner’s story and it shows. It flowed well and never felt overwhelming leaving me with an interest in learning more about the history of that time and place. I recommend this to anyone, especially to those who enjoy true crime.
cubicleblindnessKM More than 1 year ago
Historian Paul French puts a bit of a unique twist on True Crime. He focuses on a unsolved murder that took place in China just at the onset of war with Japan. The mixing of different cultures and peoples at this time in Peking's history is pivotal factor in why this crime was unable to be solved . The balance between the cultural history and development of Peking and the procedures taken to solve this crime were equal factors. As the murder victim was originally from Britain both police forces had to work together. They were also given a time limit on how long they had to unravel the details and arrest a suspect. When the time limit is up, Pamela's father takes on the case himself and with all of these documents 75 years later, the author believes he has solved the mystery and presents it to us in a very convincing format. After telling her father that she was going roller skating, Pamela fails to come home. He goes looking for her and comes across a murder scene in which the dead is literally gutted and unrecognizable that he has to identify her body by a piece of jewelery and her hair color. All of her body organs are removed and her face is butchered. Leading the investigation into several different directions, most likely being that this was not an crime of passion, and whereas there is no blood at the site of the body the murder had to have been carried out elsewhere. And this is what leads them into a large amount of questioning of people, business owners and possible witnesses that were out that night in various parts of the city that Pamela was known to frequent. The author gives us insight into the city of Peking. How the people that were coming and going from this city at this particular part of history were just as much a part of the way that the investigation was handled as the murder itself. People and businesses coming and going in the recent years with the impending war with Japan looming upon them. The combination of rules and regulations that both sides of the police forces had to abide by and a time limit that could only frustrate matters. Even her own father who was very familiar with Peking himself, unable to to find the answers before he died as well. A sad story that the author was able to bring to light many years later.
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Paul French, a historian and an expert on China, takes us back to Peking in 1937. The Japanese are surrounding the city. Superstitions are running high. The Chinese believe in things like the "dreaded fox spirits". Paula Werner was just a school girl, a bit headstrong and free thinking, living with her father in Peking unless she was away at boarding school. Her father was a scholar and a retired British Consul. She had gone out to spend time with friends but never returns home. Then a body was found murdered, mutilated, organs removed, it even appeared the killer tried to cut her arm completely off and her face is almost unrecognizable. The body is later identified as Paula Werner. Because of her father's British connection the investigation became quite a circus. Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis is brought in from Tientsin to assist the Chinese detectives but both governments really tie their hands to where, who and how they can investigate. With the suspect list growing and few actual clues, will the crime be solved before the Japanese invade and Peking as they know it is gone forever. Dollycas's Thoughts This is a very well researched story. It is a time in history that is pretty unknown in general history of the world taught in school in the U.S. French presents the information methodically but I almost felt overloaded by all of it. The lengthy descriptions of buildings, streets and alleys. The history of the time set forth in paragraph and after paragraph of dates and events and their effect on the nation. While all very interesting I felt the story of Pamela Werner got a bit lost at times. The roadblocks met by the detectives were immense and removed the expected drama of searching out the killer. Her father's continued dedication to getting justice for his daughter was unwavering. His need to employ private detectives to find the truth, but never enough evidence to arrest or convict was heartbreaking. I know the author had to follow the facts and this is a true telling. It took a great effort for me to finish this book. History enthusiasts will appreciate all the detail but everyday readers of true crime and mystery will find themselves like me skimming over the pages to get to a solution that never really comes because of the restrictions/corruption by both the Chinese and British governments. French probably did identify the real killer but because of the obstacles in place at the time of the crime and the lack of crucial information the murder is still unresolved. The outcome is not the authors fault as he cannot rewrite history.
smittenword More than 1 year ago
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. It’s a blood and guts whodunit that twists and turns through the not so savory back alleys of the present capital of China and digs up dirt on some of her upstanding citizens and those not so upstanding. French delivers history you can smell, taste, and feel. Midnight in Peking transports you to an extremely turbulent time in China’s history and puts you in the middle of the events that transpired that frigid night. History and mystery. As a fan of both genres, Midnight in Peking is a win-win. .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although I generally steer clear of non-fiction, a Diane Rheme interview with the author and the book's inclusion on many "best" lists, prompted me to read the book. The first chapters were slow, but once French's detailed descriptions of the victim, the suspects and the landscape were defined, I felt I was in pre-war Peking along with the lead, yet ineffective, polarly dispatched detectives. I was so immersed that I needed to search out photos and maps. A story so twisted that had this been fiction, it might be hard to believe. The last quarter of the book with the father's search results made this even more satisfying.
dwightdavidmorgan More than 1 year ago
MIDNIGHT IN PEKING has all of the elements of a great crime novel: an innocent victim brutally murdered, a variety of possible perpetrators with mysterious motives, and a fascinating historical setting. But Paul French’s fascinating book is not fiction. It is a compelling and carefully researched account of the 1930s murder of Pamela Werner, daughter of a retired British diplomat living in pre-War China. The telling is reminiscent of an Erik Larson book (e.g. DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY) in that it presents two parallel stories, one the investigation of Pamela’s macabre demise and the other the turmoil of Peking, threatened by warlords, war-hungry Japan and the emerging Communists. At times the prose bogs a bit, as French seems to try to stretch the tale unnecessarily. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy effort and a great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Avid-FLA-reader More than 1 year ago
Very well written and a most interesting story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a poorly researched book professing to be an accurate historical record of a "cold case". it beggars belief that the author has invented testimony, and has not supplied adequate referencing to support the claims to veracity. The prose is repetative. This slim notion of a story has been unrealistically padded with endless supposition. The punchline is an acknowledged invention by the author- it is a shame he didnt have the decency to admit the rest was of similar origin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yoda and The Commanders sit at a holo-table, talking the situation over.
EAW1025 More than 1 year ago
Great true historical read. If you like the past, murder and mystery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reads like a true crime story, than historical text. Fascinating.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down. Paul French has done an excellent job.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paul French has produced a well written book. I suggest that anyone not familiar with China, purchase a large world atlas and have it handy. Once the book is read, then search Google images for specific images, but not before completing the book.
Chowbell More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. Even if you are not that interested in the details of the history of China at that time, it is still a page turner. Others on this page have said this better than I, but I wanted to add my recommendation of this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such pleasure to read this well written and well researched book . I could not put it down.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An incredible read. Grabs you from page one.