Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

Midnight in Peking – Paul French #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction – True Crime
4*s

Midnight in Peking is an intriguing book which looks at the gruesome murder of Pamela Werner at the same time as the Japanese were poised to invade China.

ETC Werner was Pamela’s adoptive father, a retired Consul who was an academic of Chinese with a particular interest in mythology and language. When his daughter Pamela failed to come home that cold winter’s evening in 1937 he searched for her, sadly her mutilated body was found at the bottom of Fox Tower with her heart and other organs removed.

The book is seriously well researched with many documents examined which gives the reader the feel of the ex-pat community in Peking, and it is telling that Pamela had been ice skating before bicycling home, activities that her peers living in the UK could easily have been doing. What Paul French evocatively describes is the gated community, Legation Quarter, where most of the ex-pats lived, although not Pamela and her father who lived outside, and then there was the were the ‘Badlands’ where life was a whole lot more tawdry and where the Russians congregated eager to sample its fast food outlets and brothels. Through the whole book you can’t fault the descriptions of the places that were familiar to Pamela.

The book is of course focussed on who killed Pamela and it comes up with a valid scenario based on his combing of the archives and not least the efforts of her father who made it his mission to keep the investigation into his daughter’s death alive. ETC Werner is painted as a complex character and he clearly didn’t set out in life to win friends, indeed quite the opposite so when he bombarded anyone who he thought had power with letters full of his suspicions about the perpetrator with letter after letter. In a link to ETC Werner’s work we also hear about the Chinese superstitions which relate to the spirits that haunt Fox Tower where Pamela’s dismembered body was discovered.

Equally interesting is the history of the creeping invasion of the Japanese through China and the knock on effect that had on the ex-pat community as well as the wider implications for the Chinese. This is a slice of history that was new to me and although my geography is particularly poor this part is explained well enough that I easily followed the time-lines and could visualise the widening of the areas under Japanese control.

This is a non-fiction book although the majority of the book is very readable, however I did get bogged down in the early section of who was who in the ex-pat community in China with its lengthy section on not just who did what now but what they’d done before without any real idea of the part they would play in Pamela’s story. This is a minor criticism of a book that bought a time and place to life long after both had disappeared.

Having read the investigation carried out by the author I felt his theory worked although the fact that the case was never solved seemed to be for people in high places supressing the truth rather than it was never known. The real mystery that remains is ‘who was Pamela Warner?’ because this is a young woman, despite being represented as a school girl she was in her late teens, who was a mass of contradictions.

Midnight in Peking was my eight read of my 20 Books of Summer Challenge 2017

First Published UK: April 2013
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 272
Genre: Non-Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

24 thoughts on “Midnight in Peking – Paul French #20booksofsummer

  1. Not a huge fan of true crime, but this sounds intriguing, especially because of its time and setting. I’ve visited the Legion Quarter in Beijing (many embassies are still located there).

    1. One thing I like about true crime (not the sensational stuff) is that you can learn all sorts of other stuff if it’s well done – the author does mention that the Legion Quarter is still home to many of the embassies, in fact it was jam packed with information.

    1. I’ve found some really good true crime this year none of which is the sensationalist stuff but far more thoughtful and insightful in areas outside the crime itself – there is more good ones than I’d realised.

  2. What a fascinating context for a book, Cleo. And it sounds as though French does a thorough job of placing the reader there. I do like it when authors of true crime books evoke the people and time and place, and it certainly seems as though that’s what happens here. Thanks, as always, for the fine review, and I”m glad you enjoyed the book.

  3. It couldn’t have been easy getting any information from the authorities to help the father discover what happened, records were likely destroyed in the invasion and neither Chinese or Japense sources would have been keen to help

  4. I like expat memoirs. It gives one a more intimate feel of the place rather than just holiday stories. Though this is not a memoir the story seems to be an accurate description of an actual event and the stories and background surrounding it. I do like those details!

  5. Glad you enjoyed this one. Like you, I thought Pamela herself was intriguing – she really did seem to have two different sides. I can’t remember now if there are photos of her in the book or if I googled her, but the pictures of her in school uniform and then dressed as a sophisticated young woman really brought that contrast home. And it did seem as if the Brits were more interested in maintaining their reputation than uncovering the truth…

    1. Those pictures are in the book and the difference was huge – and yes they didn’t seem overly keen to make life difficult the ex-pat population at large and seemed quite keen to forget all about it.

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