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

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  4,904 Ratings  ·  897 Reviews
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 suspe ...more
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Penguin (Non-Classics) (first published January 1st 2011)
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Nancy Oakes
May 17, 2012 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it
If you've picked this book up expecting yet another true-crime novel filled with the titillating and tantalizing details that normally make these books sell well, forget it -- you've got the wrong book. By the very nature of the title, it should be very clear that there's going to be some historical component to this book, so don't be surprised.

Part history, part cold-case mystery, Midnight in Peking began literally as a footnote the author happened to read in a biography of Edgar Snow, an Amer
Rebecca Martin
May 24, 2012 Rebecca Martin rated it it was amazing
I put this book in my "Global detective fiction" shelf, though let me say right away that it is not fiction. I enjoyed every minute of this book and it ended all too soon.

The time is 1937 and the place is the area in and around the Foreign Legation quarters in old Peking. Politics all over the world are in turmoil with events leading to WWII taking place in Europe, and in China the brutal Japanese are invading and the already feeble nationalist government is on the ropes.

A nearly-19 year old Eng
Sam Quixote
Peking, January, 1937, and the body of white teenager Pamela Werner is discovered in the early hours of the morning. Her body has been viciously mutilated, her face damaged nearly beyond recognition, and her heart cut out. The murder caused an enormous scandal across the Empire – who killed Pamela?

I suppose “spoilers” - even though it’s recorded history!

In Midnight in Peking, Paul French revisits this long-forgotten crime in an attempt to find answers to the unsolved cold case. The story of Pam
Feb 17, 2017 Jeanette rated it really liked it
This is a REALLY hard book to review. There is just so much meat there.

It might be beyond my ability to actually convey the gist of this. It's that complex. It's not only a particular and very complicated (terrible, horrific- put 10 other grizzly adjectives here) murder case at all. It is an intricately researched and described window into the reality of 1937 Peking. Not only in the demographics, the politico, the varying class economics- but also and at the prime center is the Legislation Quart
Feb 08, 2017 Roberto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Non lasciarmi sola

Mi piacciono moltissimo i libri che, partendo da avvenimenti veri, riescono a intrigare, avvincere e a restituire una realtà storica poco conosciuta.

Questo libro di Paul French è uno di questi. L'ambiente, quello della Cina della fine anni trenta, viene descritto nei suoi minimi dettagli, con la sua povertà, il suo oppio, i suoi bordelli, i suoi stranieri colonialisti che, vivendo nel lusso, facevano impunemente il bello e il cattivo tempo riuscendo sempre a mettere a tacere ev
May 26, 2012 Bettie☯ rated it liked it
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 10, 2012 Richard rated it it was amazing
Chinese New Year will never be the same as author Paul French takes us back to Peking 1937. This is a true crime story about the shocking murder of a British teenager and the determined pursuit for justice that her Father failed to find in his lifetime.
It is written by an historian Paul French; this isn't a stuffy text book though but a loving retelling of crime that captured his imagination. He uses all his skills in research to bring old Peking to life and explain the various forces at work th
Dec 04, 2012 Ally rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing! - Paul French is an excellent writer and with Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China has made an already very interesting story truly fascinating.

The descriptions of life in Peking in the 1930s & 40s create a rich backdrop to this 'murder mystery' and I loved the way French slowly opened our eyes to the connections and interconnections between people of every class layer in this very small world. I also loved how the evidence w
Jun 08, 2015 Rosalba rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tuttavia si tratta solo di un’illusione, poiché in realtà tutto è cambiato e nulla rimane come prima.

Ottimo libro. Qualcuno lo ha già detto e descritto meglio di quanto possa fare io. Si tratta di una storia vera: l'efferato omicidio di una ragazza bianca in Cina, sul finire degli anni trenta. L'indagine è accompagnata da un escursus storico- culturale molto interessante e approfondito riguardante la Cina, in particolare Pechino e dintorni, dall' inizio del XX secolo alla seconda guerra mondiale
Feb 15, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing
Crossposted at Booklikes

Sometimes you read a book and wonder why the hell it won all the acclaim listed on the cover.

This is not one of those books.

French’s work details the investigation of a murder of a young English in Peking just before the onslaught of the Japanese. To say that the book is engrossing would be an understatement, and to say that the whole book is engrossing would also be wrong.

It does start off very slow but picks up around page 40.

French keeps the reader’s attention becau
Jul 22, 2012 Hannah rated it it was amazing
Bloody brillant true crime book. This Paul French fellow knows how to write an awesome non-fiction tale to satisfy my personal tastes.

Full review to come later.
Oct 07, 2012 Roberta rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-crime
Pamela Werner lived in the storied Chinese city of Peking, on a street called Armour Factory Alley, with her father E.T. C. Werner, a retired consul and noted expert on Chinese language, history, and culture. In 1911, Werner had married Gladys Nina Ravenshaw, “a girl of the British Empire.” She was 22; he was 45.

In 1919, they adopted Pamela. Gladys lived a mere three years longer, dying at age 35 and leaving her three-year-old daughter in the care of her husband and various servants of the house
May 17, 2013 Leah rated it it was amazing
‘The evil that men do lives after them...’

This is a fascinating story of a true-life crime committed in the last days of old Peking as the threat of invasion, war and revolution spread fear amongst the Chinese and foreign inhabitants of the city.

Author Paul French has researched the murder of 19-year-old Pamela Werner thoroughly and tells the tale well. Was Pamela an innocent schoolgirl or an independent and rebellious young woman bent on sampling some of the excitements Peking could offer? Wa
Jan 30, 2012 Cheryl rated it liked it
Recommended to Cheryl by: Goodreads giveaway
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.
Apr 19, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing
This is a really interesting and evocative true crime novel, set in Peking as it is poised on the brink of WWII. On a bleak January morning in 1937, the body of a young girl is found at the bottom of Fox Tower, a looming watchtower rumoured to be haunted by spirits. The girl is nineteen year old Pamela Werner and the motive is not robbery, as her expensive watch has stopped near midnight. The murder shocks the foreign inhabitants of Peking, who are already nervous about the possibility of invasi ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Early in the afternoon of January 7, 1937, Pamela Werner, nineteen year old daughter of the former British Consul in Peking, told her father that she was going out to meet a friend and go ice skating. The rink was located in the area of Peking that was inhabited exclusively by diplomats and ex pats from various countries. The next morning Pamela's horrifically mutilated body was found at the foot of the mysterious Fox Tower. Two detectives -- one Chinese and one British were assigned to the case ...more
Jul 01, 2012 Stephanie rated it it was amazing

I loved this book because of the very human story it told. The author brought every puzzle piece, every emotion & every motive of all involved so close & i really gained an understanding of what might have been in the midst of this city with the big historical events as a backdrop. To be able to report on the big picture as well as the little picture is no small feat. To hear about a father never giving up his search for the killers of his daughter, against all odds, was inspiring. Pame
Jan 22, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in China
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: review in THE ECONOMIST
As implied in the title, the central character of this book is Peking itself. Rather than the political and cultural center it is today, pre-war Peking was a depressed second tier city, particularly for the beached ex-patriot community of some three thousand residents. Tientsin, approximately 70 miles to the south, and far off Shanghai, over 600 miles south, were both more prosperous with their long history as commercial hubs and treaty ports. Peking, on the other hand, had been overrun by compe ...more
Paul Pessolano
Apr 20, 2012 Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it
“Midnight in Peking” by Paul French, published by Penguin Books.

Category – True Crime

This is an excellent look at true crime and a way of life that has ceased and will never be seen again. It is amazing that Paul French was able to go back and reconstruct this story that takes place in Peking, China in 1937. When reading this book it is imperative that the reader be aware of the political situation at the time and the mindset of the different cultures involved.

Pamela Werner was a beautiful young
Jun 04, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it

Once I started Midnight in Peking, I had a difficult time putting it down. The murder takes place in 1937 and that time period peaked my interest in the story. I knew that the Japanese were making aggressive moves into China, but for some reason I thought the incursions were mostly made by aircraft. Probably because the bombing of Pearl Harbor is what comes to mind when I think of Japanese aggression. Anyway, I know now just how little I really paid attention in school. The Japanese invaded Chin
Apr 28, 2012 Cheryl rated it liked it
I have read several nonfiction books recently and they really intrigued me into checking this genre out more. That is why I wanted to check out Midnight in Peking. I thought the unsolved murder of a young Pamela Werner sounded intriguing. I was not the only one as Mr. French was also intrigued by Pamela’s story and felt that he wanted to research her story himself and see if he could once again give Pamela a voice.

Pamela was the daughter of E.T.C. Werner, a former British consul at Foochow. Bac
Beth Cato
Feb 28, 2015 Beth Cato rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 08, 2012 Jill Hutchinson rated it really liked it
This sounds like an Agatha Christie novel but it is, in actuality, the true story of the particularly horrific murder of a young English woman in Peking. Things were changing in China in 1937......Chiang Kai- shek was holding power in part of the country, the Communists were fighting for primacy, and the Japanese were already on the ground taking town after town. The huge country was in turmoil and many of the non-Chinese, feeling safe in their Legations in the Port Treaty cities were feeling sa ...more
Nov 18, 2012 Seana rated it really liked it
It's an odd coincidence that this book forms such a perfect companion piece to Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts. Although I'm sure the publishers recognized a good popular history when they saw one, French tells us in the end how he came upon this tale, and I think it was the fact that it was an intriguing story more than any immediate sense of commercial possibilities that drove him on.

Both books are set in roughly the same period, this one beginning in 1937, Garden of Beasts in 1933. Both
Marissa Morrison
Aug 03, 2013 Marissa Morrison rated it liked it
It starts out like a slow-moving episode of SVU: Instead of "donk donk" and a cut to the relevant part of a new interview, we get a full summary, even when multiple witnesses report the same fact (e.g. the murdered girl was expected home at 7:30). Although the slow storytelling is dull, it gives the reader opportunities to notice red flags that the investigators miss (for instance, Why is that man repainting his apartment in the middle of winter?).

My main complaint is that no single person in t
Jan 22, 2014 dianne rated it really liked it
i don't think you should start this book if you have anything else to do in your life, as it may occupy you until you finish it. Peking in 1937 is a most fascinating character - replete with invading Japanese, Chinese from all over, (escaping the Communists, joining the Communists, displaced by Chiang-Kai Shek, etc) White Russians - now stateless and broke, a few American marines, & smatterings of the dying colonial powers - Portuguese, French and of course, the British. The author found pri ...more
Aug 17, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
Paul French's true crime story combines the tale of the cold case murder of the teen-age daughter of a former British consul in Peking in 1937 with a historical discussion of the Japanese invasion of China during the same time period. While the history helps set the context it at times seems extraneous; it often doesn't add to or explain what we know about Pamela's murder or those who committed the crime. There is also a drag in the middle of the book as the official investigation closes, and he ...more
Midnight in Peking tells the horrific story of the murder of a beautiful intelligent young woman, Pamela Werner, on the eve of war in Peking. The investigation by both Chinese and British police officers was abandoned as the war and the Japanese approached but Pamela's elderly stepfather refused to abandon the search for the truth. That truth he unravelled but his evidence lay mouldering in the national archives in Kew for 70 years when incredibly the author, who had already become interested in ...more
This was fascinating and sad, with a feeling of a gray autumn morning before the first snow. The last days of Old China before the Communists arrived – you know nothing was going to end well for anyone, except for maybe a few guys (mostly Westerners) who managed to get away. It was a shame about Pamela’s death, but I cared even more for some other people involved – the servants from her household who seemed to genuinely have liked her, for Peggy and Marie, the working girls Werner asked for help ...more
Mircalla64 (free Liu Xiaobo)
Jun 01, 2015 Mircalla64 (free Liu Xiaobo) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cina
il marcio alberga spesso sotto il tappeto delle buone convenzioni

indagine condotta da un padre sulla morte della figlia avvenuta a Pechino agli albori della guerra contro il Giappone, l'ex console inglese non è per nulla convinto dall'operato della polizia, aggiungerei del tutto a ragione, infatti le sue indagini lo porteranno a scoprire l'omicida tra le sue stesse conoscenze, ma dal momento che l'assassino è un inglese e la sua nazione di appartenenza mette l'apparenza davanti anche agli intere
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Librarian note: There is more than one author with this name in the Goodreads database.

Paul French is the Chief China Representative of Access Asia, a market research and business intelligence company specialising in China and North Asia's economics and markets. He was educated in London and at the University of Glasgow. He is the co-author of One Billion Shoppers - Accessing Asia's Consuming Pass
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