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

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  6,178 ratings  ·  1,044 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)
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True Crime--Well Written
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Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  6,178 ratings  ·  1,044 reviews

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Nancy Oakes
May 17, 2012 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
Diane in Australia
Very interesting book. Paul French has written a reconstruction of the investigation into Pamela Werner's murder in Peking, 1937. He based it on medical reports, Peking police reports, press reports, letters from Scotland Yard, E.T.C. Werner's personal investigation notes, and much more. It was a brutal murder, a tragedy, and it broke her father's heart. French ably weaves the murder case with the turbulent times Peking was experiencing. Speaking of Pamela's father he says, "He had lived eighty- ...more
Rebecca Martin
May 24, 2012 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 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
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Bettie by: Laura
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan C
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, gr-group-read, china
Hard to believe it took me 8+ years to read this fascinating book. It spent most of that time lost in the forest that is my Kindle.

Non-fiction story of the death of a teenager chafing under her parent's rule. She says that she is going skating with a friend. Goes to dinner that a different friend, leaves her bicycle somewhere and goes to a kind of party she shouldn't be going to. No one should be going to that kind of party but so many of us have. Luckily, they didn't all turn out as bad as they
Apr 10, 2012 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
Jill Hutchinson
Dec 08, 2012 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
Jan 22, 2014 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
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 atten
Dec 04, 2012 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 was p
Katherine Addison
This is an excellent book, about the murder of a young Englishwoman in Peking in 1937, and the failure of the official investigation, caught between the rock of Chinese corruption and the hard place of British determination to squelch all scandal, and then about the quite remarkable investigation conducted by the young woman's father (then in his seventies) and the solution he discovered. It makes an interesting pair with People Who Eat Darkness: both are stories about the very strange worlds of ...more
Jul 22, 2012 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 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 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
Apr 19, 2012 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
Jan 30, 2012 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.
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating page-turner story and well told, even if I’m not totally convinced by the conclusions and reconstructed narrative the author “agrees with”. I don’t have a better alternative but I’m not sure about the one presented. The truth is in there somewhere but there’s still some history mystery remaining. It’s not an Occam’s razor-approved theory, let’s put it that way. The atmosphere is really the highlight, of a jittery city on edge before the inevitable clash with Japan and much worse to ...more
Nov 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, group
A young woman is murdered and mutilated. A police investigation uncovers some suspects, but doesn't find enough evidence to bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion. It also uncovers a lot of other things.
The time and place are Peking in 1937.
This is a time of great change, change which people are denying, resisting, embracing or fearing. It is evoked very well in the book.

The progress of the investigation is shown in considerable detail. It is mainly carried out by the Chinese police, but wi
Jun 04, 2013 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
Jun 11, 2012 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 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. Pamela has
Diane S ☔
3.5 The Legation quarter in Peking, where many foreigner live a rather privileged existence, though things are changing as the Japanese are gaining more power and control over the region. A young British girl's body is found and things quickly become even more serious. Well written book, imparting much history of this region and the politics of the time period. Rapid changes, many different factions trying to gain control in China. Interesting read. ARC by NetGalley.
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most riveting non fiction stories I have read this year. Please note that I will be spoiling the ending, because I otherwise could not give an adequate review. This is a real life story about the murder of a young British girl in China.

The story takes place in 1937 and China and the world are balanced on the edge of a knife. Hitler is gathering his forces in Europe and Japan has already invaded China and encroaching ever closer to Peking (the author chooses to use the old name
Pamela Mclaren
When I first began reading this book, I forgot that it was nonfiction and that is good. Although the writer's writing is spare, this reads like a novel and the story is no less compelling for that.

The book is set in 1930s China, a country that various countries have entered and tried to control, most notably the British, who still retain their own settlements, their own military and police forces. But the new big dog is Japan that is steadily gaining a greater and greater command over the count
Paul Ataua
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
‘Midnight in Peking’ investigates the mysterious real life murder of a young girl just outside the legation quarter of Peking in the late 1930s.The backdrop of the murder is a city with its odd group of European and American expats, its white Russians, its prostitution, and its heroin trade. It’s a city in a country that is slipping into both war and revolution, with the Japanese at its gates, and the threat of the communists ever present. It’s a fascinating read both for an insight into the Pek ...more
Jul 13, 2019 marked it as to-read
A Death in Peking: Who Killed Pamela Werner by Graeme Sheppard draws a different conclusion...... ...more
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating true story. I tried to do the walking tour in Beijing. Many of the locations have changed dramatically but using your imagination it was possible to see the area as it was in 1930s. This story is mesmerising and depicts a tragic series of events.
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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

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