22. June 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, History, NonFiction, True Crime

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French, 260 pages, read by Angie, on 06/21/2012

Its 1937 in Peking, Japan is closing in and tensions are high. Peking is still relatively safe however. It is a mix of native Chinese, white Russian emigrants, and Europeans. On gray morning the body of a young, white girl is found mutilated at the base of Fox Tower. It is a grisly murder and shocks Peking. Her name is Pamela Warner and this book is the story of her murder and its investigation.

The Peking police and the European police investigate the murder but they are hampered at every turn. They are stonewalled by the British authorities and certain leads are never fully investigated. Politics in Peking are a tricky thing and no one wants to lose face. Pamela’s father, ETC Werner is also problematic. He is a former diplomat who does not have the best reputation with the authorities. The police close the case without ever charging anyone or really coming up with any viable suspects. This doesn’t stop Werner from launching his own investigation into his daughters murder. He uses his own money and investigators and uncovers a seedy underworld of sex and violence against young white women. The perpetrators are upper class Europeans and white Russians. Even with all the evidence he collects Werner is never able to get the British or Chinese or any government to properly investigate Pamela’s murder. It remains unsolved today though Werner’s theories appear to be the correct ones.

Fascinating story full of intrigue and corruption and dangerous elements. Because this is a factual account pulled from the actual historical documents there is a lot of information to digest in this book. French definitely tries to do justice to this story and by the end I think he has. He pieced together a lot of information to really create a truly accurate picture of what events were like a that time. He really shows the people involved and the climate of the times. Peking is on the verge of war and the writing shows this.

I think the real strength of this book is the end once we get into Werner’s investigation. Things pick up and a lot is revealed. The first part of the book (the official investigation) was a little dry for my tastes. There are a LOT of facts about the people, the times and Peking thrust into the first half of the book. I am not sure all of them were necessary for the story French was trying to tell. I am sure they were all completely accurate and information he uncovered during his research, but I don’t think you necessarily have to put everything you find out in the book…maybe put it in the back as notes. A lot of the background information pulled me away from the narrative of the investigation so that the first half of the book didn’t seem to flow very well. The second half doesn’t have that problem because there isn’t the background info dump of the first half; so it was a lot easier to read. I enjoy a narrative book a lot more than information dumping; however, I did think this was an interesting look into a historical story. I was fascinated by the coverup and the stonewalling by the various governments. And I do think Werner and French’s theories on Pamela’s final hours are probably correct; they just make sense. Too bad the authorities never brought anyone to justice for her murder.

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