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

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  3,318 ratings  ·  712 reviews
Winner of the both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Non-Fiction Dagger

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...more
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Penguin (Non-Classics) (first published January 1st 2011)
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Best CHINA Expat Books
15th out of 89 books — 61 voters
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True Crime--Well Written
33rd out of 176 books — 130 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nancy Oakes
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...more
Rebecca Martin
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
‘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...more
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.
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
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...more
Jan 27, 2014 Ms.pegasus rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
“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...more
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

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...more

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...more
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...more
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
My lukewarm response to this book is probably less an indictment of the book than a reflection of my preference for fiction over non-fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author's exposition of Peking in the 1930's and he did a very credible job of conveying the grit and corruption that combined with the exoticism of a Chinese culture on its way out. BUT, the prose was too journalistic to captivate me. Paul French presented a fascinating, un-solved murder but it just felt too workmanlike for me.

He me...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 book gave me nightmares. French plunges you so utterly in the fetid world of The Badlands of Peking that you can taste it. I learned about the atmosphere in city at the dawn of WWII and about ugly side of colonial Britain. Here's my teaser: A murdered women's body is found in the shadows of a haunted area in the city. Slashed almost beyond recognition and with her heart cut from her body--hunter-style--Pamela Werner becomes a paragon for the Peking's restless, evil energy. Her crusty father...more
Feb 26, 2012 Cheryl rated it 3 of 5 stars
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.
Ethan Cramer-Flood
By complete coincidence I read Midnight in Peking -- a true-crime/mystery retelling set primarily in 1937 Beijing -- immediately after reading News From Tartary, which also chronicles 1930s China. The latter book starts out in Beijing in 1935 before moving to Xinjiang, while the former stays in the ancient capital almost entirely. Between the two of them, I have a newfound wonder for the romance of ante-bellum Republican China.

Paul French, journalist and China-writer extraordinaire, took some ti...more
Jennifer Plante
I wish I could give this 3.5 stars: I enjoyed this book very much, but had hopes for a different resolution. The historical and cultural references were fascinating and the information was accessible to this reader who needed a change from intellectually stimulating/challenging works. I'm giving it four stars because it was a nice change of pace for me.
Jun 01, 2012 Laura rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4:
On a frozen night in January 1937, in the dying days of colonial Peking, the body of a young woman was found in the shadows of a haunted watchtower. It was Pamela Werner, the daughter of the city's former British consul Edward Werner.
A very interesting historical fact crime "thriller" on the unsolved murder of Pamela Werner. The author used Pamela's father's investigations to wrap up the case by pinpointing the most likely cause of death. A well written and driving book that made me feel as if I was in Peking in 1937 following the clues with Dennis and Han. Mr. Werner was admirable in his ceaseless devotion to his adopted child. I enjoyed the looming Japanese threat element worked into the book as it did have a great effect...more
Fascinating true story about the murder of an English girl in 1937 China.

Before reading this book I knew nothing about China's history in the early 20th century. The author provides a good background. After the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, the foreign powers had their own enclave called the Legation Quarter in Peking. This is the area of the city where most of the foreigners lived and where all the embassies/consuls were located. They even had their own police force and the Peking police (Chinese) h...more
dianne budd
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
This is a historical account of the murder of the daughter of a former British consul in Peking in the 1930s. The author traces the official murder investigation (which reached no conclusions) and the subsequent unofficial investigation by her father. I have to say that I was pretty impressed with French's recreation of a time and place that your average reader does no know much about. Like most of these kinds of works, the story itself gets a little thin at times, and the book can feel a bit re...more
C.J. Shane
This is a true crime story, and thanks to author Paul French's superior writing and research skills, it reads wonderfully well. Author Paul French writes a gripping tale, and because he is an historian, he also adds rich historical detail to the story line that makes the book even more interesting.

This true-crime story revolves around the brutal murder of Pamela Werner, a young British woman and daughter of British diplomat, scholar, and Old China Hand Edward Werner. The story is set in the Lega...more
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...more
Phillip Kim
A horrific crime, a collision of irreconcilably disparate cultures (Japan, China, English, Russian) living in close promixity to one another, a nostalgic setting (1920s Beijing) - that's a helluva treasure trove of content to build a book around. Paul French does not disappoint. He clearly did a tremendous amount of research, and it comes through in rich details that transport the reader. He throws up enough red herrings early on to keep you guessing as to whodunnit, before presenting the crime...more
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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 Passions (1998) and author of Carl Crow - A Tough Old China Hand: The Life, Times, and Adve...more
More about Paul French...
North Korea: State of Paranoia: A Modern History The Badlands: Decadent Playground of Old Peking North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula - A Modern History Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines Are Changing a Nation Carl Crow - A Tough Old China Hand: The Life, Times, and Adventures of an American in Shanghai

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