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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Midnight In Peking - Gritty True Story of Murder and Mayhem in Pre-WWII China



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 na├»ve 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.

(Courtesy copy compliments of Penguin Books via Net Galley) 
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