Stephanie's Reviews > Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

Midnight in Peking by Paul French
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Jul 07, 2012

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Read from July 07 to 12, 2012

French opens his tale with the exotic rickshaw pullers and gentlemen who walk their birds along Peking's ancient walls and stumble upon the mutiliated body of a foreign woman at the base of the Fox Tower, a 500 year old watch tower on the city wall that many residents believed was haunted by sinister "fox spirits." The brutally murdered woman is identified as Pamela Werner, the 19 year old adopted daughter of an elderly retired British counsel and scholar who had lived in Peking since the 1880s and whose combative personality had alienated many of his former colleagues. To appease the privileged foreigners who resided in the Legation Quarters, a gated and guarded minature Europe, a former Scotland Yard detective, Richard Dennis, is dispatched to Peking to assist the local detective, Colonel Han Shih-Ching, in investigating the crime. Dennis is hampered by official orders to confine his investigation to the Legation Quarters, and Han, who is either inept or complicit in a cover-up, are unable to resolve the crime. With the looming Japanese occupation of Peking, many wealthy foreigners fleed the city, and the murder investigation is closed with the crime remaining unsolved. Pamela's grief-stricken father then uses his own resources to conduct his own investigation, and what he uncovered was far worse, far more evil, than anything Peking's detectives could have imagined.

French is a knowledgable tour guide who ably evokes the sights and sounds of old Peking. He takes the reader on an odyssey that ranges from posh clubs and embassies to the brothels and drug dens on the fringe of the Legation Quarter. But, French is no Erik Larsen or John Berendt, and the story lacks a compelling punch.

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