Catalogue

COVID-19: Updates on library services and operations.

Midnight in Peking : how the murder of a young Englishwoman haunted the last days of old China /
Paul French.
edition
Rev. ed.
imprint
New York : Penguin Books, 2012.
description
x, 260 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 24 cm.
ISBN
0143121006 (hbk.), 9780143121008 (hbk.)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Penguin Books, 2012.
isbn
0143121006 (hbk.)
9780143121008 (hbk.)
contents note
The approaching storm -- The body at the Fox Tower -- The police of Peking -- Wild dogs and diplomats -- The investigation -- Pamela -- An old China hand -- Armour factory alley -- Cocktail hour at the Wagons Lits -- Into the Badlands -- Of rats and men -- Under Peking earth -- A respectable man of influence -- Radical chic -- The element of fire -- The rising sun that chills -- Journey to the underworld -- Chuanpan Hutong -- The hunters -- Invitation to a party -- The wound that wouldn't heal -- The writing of midnight in Peking.
catalogue key
8435536
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. 255-259).
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Macavity Award, USA, 2013 : Nominated
First Chapter

The eastern section of old Peking has been dominated since the fifteenth century by a looming watchtower, built as part of the Tartar Wall to protect the city from invaders. Known as the Fox Tower, it was believed to be haunted by fox spirits, a superstition that meant the place was deserted at night.

After dark the area became the preserve of thousands of bats, which lived in the eaves of the Fox Tower and flitted across the moonlight like giant shadows. The only other living presence was the wild dogs, whose howling kept the locals awake. On winter mornings the wind stung exposed hands and eyes, carrying dust from the nearby Gobi Desert. Few people ventured out early at this time of year, opting instead for the warmth of their beds.

But just before dawn on 8 January 1937, rickshaw pullers passing along the top of the Tartar Wall, which was wide enough to walk or cycle on, noticed lantern lights near the base of the Fox Tower, and indistinct figures moving about. With neither the time nor the inclination to stop, they went about their business, heads down, one foot in front of the other, avoiding the fox spirits.

When daylight broke on another freezing day, the tower was deserted once more. The colony of bats circled one last time before the creeping sun sent them back to their eaves. But in the icy wasteland between the road and the tower, the wild dogs--the huang gou- were prowling curiously, sniffing at something alongside a ditch.

It was the body of a young woman, lying at an odd angle and covered by a layer of frost. Her clothing was dishevelled, her body badly mutilated. On her wrist was an expensive watch that had stopped just after midnight.

It was the morning after the Russian Christmas, thirteen days after the Western Christmas by the old Julian calendar.

Peking at that time had a population of some one and a half million, of which only two thousand, perhaps three, were foreigners. They were a disparate group, ranging from stiff-backed consuls and their diplomatic staff to destitute White Russians. In between were journalists, a few businessmen, some old China hands who'd lived in Peking since the days of the Qing dynasty and felt they could never leave. And there was no shortage of foreign criminals, dope fiends and prostitutes who'd somehow washed up in northern China.

Peking's foreigners clustered in and around a small enclave known as the Legation Quarter, where the great powers of Europe, America and Japan had their embassies and consulates--institutions that were always referred to as legations. Just two square acres in size, the strictly demarcated Legation Quarter was guarded by imposing gates and armed sentries, with signs ordering rickshaw pullers to slow down for inspection as they passed through. Inside was a haven of Western architecture, commerce and entertainment--a profusion of clubs, hotels and bars that could just as easily have been in London, Paris or Washington.

Both the Chinese and foreigners of Peking had been living with chaos and uncertainty for a long time. Ever since the downfall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the city had been at the mercy of one marauding warlord after another. Nominally China was ruled by the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, but the government competed for power with the warlords and their private armies, who controlled swathes of territory as large as western Europe. Peking and most of northern China was a region in flux.

Whatever the ferocity of the storm building outside--in Chinese Peking, in the Japanese-occupied north, across China and its 400 million people to the south--the privileged foreigners in the Legation Quarter sought to maintain their European face at all costs.

More than a few foreign residents of the Legation Quarter in its heyday described themselves as inmates, but if this gated and guarded section was indeed a cage then it was a gilded one, with endless games of bridge to pass the time. Sandwiched between the legations were exclusive clubs, grand hotels and department stores.

It was Europe in miniature, with European road names and electric streetlights. But lately the once-packed hotels and clubs had been a little somber, and sometimes they were half empty. In truth, the Wagons Lits and other night spots were out of date. Shanghai had better bars, had much better everything. Peking was a relic, a one-time capital that was now far too close to the Japanese war machine. The city, its foreigners and their clubs were victims of history and geography.

To make matters worse, rumour had it that Chiang Kai-shek was about to cut a deal with Tokyo. Chiang had fought a long and bitter internecine battle to become leader of the Kuomintang and his position was still precarious; he had political challengers to stave off as well as the Japanese, the warlords and the Communists. Many people believed he would sacrifice Peking in order to save his own skin.

The city's inhabitants felt betrayed, expendable. The mood on the streets, of both foreign and Chinese Peking--in the crowded hutong, or alleyways, in the teeming markets where prices were rising and supplies of essentials were dwindling--was one of fear mixed with resignation.

When the catastrophe did finally hit, China would be thrown into a struggle for its very survival, in what would be the opening act of the Second World War. For now foreign Peking was in an uneasy lull, on the edge of panic at times, although an alcohol-fuelled denial and the strength of the silver dollar made life more bearable for many. An American or a European could still live like a king in this city, with a life of servants, golf, races, champagne-fuelled weekend retreats in the Western Hills. The storm might be coming, but the last foreigners in Peking had battened down the hatches very comfortably.

The hunt for a young woman's killer was about to consume, and in some ways define, the cold and final days of old Peking.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2011-12-12:
Historian French (Through the Looking Glass: China's Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao) unravels a long-forgotten 1937 murder in this fascinating look at Peking (now Beijing) on the brink of Japanese occupation. The severely mutilated body of 19-year-old Pamela Werner-the adopted daughter of noted Sinologist and longtime Peking resident Edward Werner-was discovered, with many of her organs removed, near the border between the Badlands, a warren of alleyways full of brothels and opium dens, and the Legation Quarter, where Peking's foreign set resided in luxury. A case immediately fraught with tension was made even trickier when the local detective, Col. Han Shih-ching, was made to work alongside Scotland Yard-trained Richard Dennis, based in Tientsin. The investigation soon stalled: the actual scene of Pamela's murder could not be found, and leads fizzled out. As China's attention turned to the looming Japanese occupation, the case was deemed "unsolved." French painstakingly reconstructs the crime and depicts the suspects-using Werner's own independent research, conducted after authorities refused to reopen his daughter's case. Compelling evidence is coupled with a keen grasp of Chinese history in French's worthy account. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Appeared in Library Journal on 2012-03-15:
In January 1937, the mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found on the outskirts of old Peking (Beijing). After an unsuccessful investigation into the slaughter of this 19-year-old English expatriate, the case was eventually closed and forgotten as World War II escalated in China. Now Shanghai-based business analyst and historian French (Through the Looking Glass: China's Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao) reopens the cold case and attempts to bring some justice to Pamela's memory in this skillfully told true-crime thriller. French writes a remarkably coherent narrative by stringing together details from official police reports, newspaper articles, interviews, and, perhaps most helpful, E.T.C. Werner's report from his personal investigation into his daughter's horrific murder. VERDICT Treating his subjects with expertise and compassion, French creates a riveting portrait of the complicated tensions that existed during wartime in a city on the brink of destruction. As he slowly unravels the clues, he reveals a crime more shocking than anyone had ever imagined. This is a difficult book to put down! Recommended for readers interested in detective novels, Chinese history, and everything in between.-Rebekah Wallin, Paris, France (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
Review Quotes
"…A compulsively readable true crime work in the tradition of Devil in the White City ." The Atlantic.com
"…A fascinating tale of life and death in a city on the brink of all-out war." Time.com
"An engrossing read" Oprah.com
"A page-turning and fascinating true crime book. This is a genre-breaker that captures the atmosphere of 1930s Peking." The Bookseller
"Clue by clue, Paul French uncovers the truth of a bizarre murder case that shocked Peking in 1937. In doing so, he draws a chilling portrait of the city''s decadent, violent and overly-privileged Euro-American expatriate community. It is a feat comparable to that of White Mischief . Fascinating and irresistible. I couldn''t put it down." John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
"French provides a wealth of historical detail about a vanished era in interwar Peking… A well-composed, engaging, lurid tale." Kirkus
"Historian French unravels a long-forgotten 1937 murder in this fascinating look at Peking (now Beijing) on the brink of Japanese occupation. French painstakingly reconstructs the crime and depicts the suspects… compelling evidence is coupled with a keen grasp of Chinese history in French's worthy account." Publisher's Weekly
"In today's Beijing, French's portrait feels surprisingly germane." The Los Angeles Times
"It is as compelling as any murder mystery." The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
"It is the storytelling flair that marks Midnight in Peking so highly above the run-of-the-mill true crime stories: with its false leads and twists, it sucks the reader in like the best fiction." The Scotsman
" Midnight in Peking is true-crime writing at its best." The Christian Science Monitor
" Midnight in Peking magically captures a strange, largely unknown time and place in modern history. It is not just a thrilling procedural. It is wise and compassionate and deeply human -- an astonishing achievement." Douglas Perry, author of The Girls of Murder City
"Never less than fascinating… one of the best portraits of between-the-wars China that has yet been written." The Wall Street Journal
"Not only does Mr. French succeed in solving the crime, he resurrects a period that was filled with glitter as well as evil, but was never, as readers will appreciate, known for being dull." The Economist
"Part historical docudrama, part tragic opera… [French] tells this sorry tale with the skill of an Agatha Christie." The Financial Times
"Paul French wonderfully evokes [the] place in that time and, amazingly, manages to bring some sense of closure to this long-forgotten mystery. This book is an instant true crime classic, which grips and hooks from the first page to the last." David Peace, author of The Red Riding Quartet
"…Reads like a mystery thriller, with its dramatic cast of character and exotic setting." San Francisco Bay Guardian
"Similar to Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City , it's a compelling story brought to life by meticulous research." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Simply marvelous! An atmospheric who-done-it in which the setting is pre-communist China, incorporating the last tottering edges of the British empire, a cast of enigmatic foreigners, and Peking bracing as Japan invades and brings the last of Old China to its knees. The mysterious and seemingly motiveless killing of a young English girl by a spirit-haunted gate in Peking is much more than it appears." Margaret George, author of Elizabeth I: A Novel
"Spellbinding" The Guardian
"The best true crime stories are tales of place as well as people, evoking the long shadows of our often haunted history. And Paul French's book, Midnight in Peking, is among the best... a real-life story ultimately as suspenseful as any modern thriller." Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz-Age New York
"The best true crime stories are tales of place as well as people, evoking the long shadows of our often haunted history. And Paul French''s book, Midnight in Peking, is among the best. As the mystery surrounding the bloody death of a young woman in pre-World War II Peking unfolds, French carries the reader on a journey through the city''s twisting streets and equally twisted politics. The result is a real-life story ultimately as suspenseful as any modern thriller." Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner''s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz-Age New York
"…the most talked-about read in town this year." The New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog
"The shocking true tale, combined with prose you can't drag yourself away from, makes Midnight in Peking a work of non fiction as compulsive as any bestselling crime novel." Sunday Express (UK)
"This book is captivating, a wild rickshaw ride into the lost world of 1930s Peking-one that plunges down the dark alleys of a murder mystery and into a murky underworld. Paul French''s rediscovery of long-hidden leads and witnesses has done justice to this extraordinary case." Paul Collins, author of The Murder of the Century
"This book is captivating, a wild rickshaw ride into the lost world of 1930s Peking-one that plunges down the dark alleys of a murder mystery and into a murky underworld. Paul French's rediscovery of long-hidden leads and witnesses has done justice to this extraordinary case." Paul Collins, author of The Murder of the Century
"[This} fitting elegy to a lost young woman and era should help ensure Pamela Werner is a footnote no more." The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"This is a good murder story, well told, with all the additional pleasures that a knowledgeable tour guide to old China can provide. Grateful readers could scarcely ask for more." Joseph Kanon, author of Istanbul Passage , in The Washington Post
"This is a good murder story, well told, with all the additional pleasures that a knowledgeable tour guide to old China can provide. Grateful readers could scarcely ask for more." Joseph Kanon, author of Istanbul Passage , in The Washington Post "Never less than fascinating... one of the best portraits of between-the-wars China that has yet been written." The Wall Street Journal "Midnight in Peking is both a detective story and a social history, and therefore as it should always keeps the hunt for Pamela's killers somewhere near the center of the narrative. [Paul French] is a wonderfully dexterous guide" Jonathan Spence in The New York Review of Books "A crime story set among sweeping events is reminiscent of Graham Greene, particularly The Third Man, while French's terse, tightly-focussed style has rightly been compared to Chandler. Midnight in Peking deserves a place alongside both these masters." The Independent "A page-turning and fascinating true crime book. This is a genre-breaker that captures the atmosphere of 1930s Peking." The Bookseller [selected as One to Watch] "...the most talked-about read in town this year." The New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog "Midnight in Peking is true-crime writing at its best, full of vivid characters, an exotic locale, secrets galore, and a truly bewildering mystery." The Christian Science Monitor "...A compulsively readable true crime work in the tradition of Devil in the White City." The Atlantic.com "Not only does Mr. French succeed in solving the crime, he resurrects a period that was filled with glitter as well as evil, but was never, as readers will appreciate, known for being dull." The Economist "An engrossing read" Oprah.com "In today's Beijing, French's portrait feels surprisingly germane." The Los Angeles Times "Part historical docudrama, part tragic opera... [French] tells this sorry tale with the skill of an Agatha Christie." The Financial Times
"Treating his subjects with expertise and compassion, French creates a riveting portrait of the complicated tensions that existed during wartime in a city on the brink of destruction. This is a difficult book to put down!" Library Journal (starred review)
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, December 2011
Library Journal, March 2012
Booklist, April 2012
Kirkus Reviews, April 2012
USA Today, May 2012
Washington Post, June 2012
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
In the last days of old Peking, where anything goes, can a murderer escape justice? 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 suspect list growing and clues sparse, two detectives-one British and one Chinese-race against the clock to solve the crime before the Japanese invade and Peking as they know it is gone forever. Can they find the killer in time, before the Japanese invade? Historian and China expert Paul French at last uncovers the truth behind this notorious murder, and offers a rare glimpse of the last days of colonial Peking.
Main Description
Peking, January 1937. The murder of a beautiful young British woman sends shockwaves through the city. With the suspect list growing, two detectivesNone British and one ChineseNrace against the clock to solve the crime before the Japanese invade and Peking.
Main Description
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 soldiers now surrounding the city? Or perhaps the dreaded fox spirits? With the suspect list growing and clues sparse, two detectives--one British and one Chinese--race against the clock to solve the crime before the Japanese invade and Peking as they know it is gone forever. Can they find the killer in time, before the Japanese invade? Historian and China expert Paul French at last uncovers the truth behind this notorious murder, and offers a rare glimpse of the last days of colonial Peking.
Table of Contents
The Approaching Stormp. 3
The Body at the Fox Towerp. 11
The Police of Pekingp. 15
Wild Dogs and Diplomatsp. 35
The Investigationp. 47
Pamelap. 55
An Old China Handp. 69
Armour Factory Alleyp. 81
Cocktail Hour at the Wagons Litsp. 89
Into the Badlandsp. 105
Of Rats and Menp. 119
Under Peking Earthp. 133
A Respectable Man of Influencep. 137
Radical Chicp. 149
The Element of Firep. 163
The Rising Sun That Chillsp. 169
Journey to the Underworldp. 175
Chuanpan Hutongp. 183
The Huntersp. 207
Invitation to a Partyp. 223
The Wound That Wouldn't Healp. 235
The Writing of Midnight in Pekingp. 249
Acknowledgementsp. 253
Sourcesp. 255
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem