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.
©2012 Paul French (P)2012 Penguin Audio
I finished listening to this book a couple of months ago, and it has remained in my mind more than any other book I've read recently. I'm not sure why it has stuck in my mind so much, but then, uncertainty is part of the experience of this book. Don't read this book expecting an exploration of sweeping themes or great historical events. It is a very small scale history, concentrating on the members of the small expatriate (chiefly British) community in Peking/Beijing and their interaction with the Chinese in the years before the war and then communism changed everything,
The centerpiece of the book is a gruesome murder, and various types of vice do come in for discussion, but don't expect lurid sensationalism. The writing is detailed and meticulous, and the reader is matter-of-fact. I was tempted to say that the book is more true crime than history, but these days true crime implies a degree of sensationalism that is absent here.
I found Midnight in Peking fascinating, and would recommend it highly to the right sort of reader.
Note that pictures of many of the participants and of the relevant locations can be found online.
Love to Bungee!!
French's book is a splendid mystery set in the twilight days of the pre-WWII China. In addition to a great story, the listener is given a wonderful insight into life in Peking in the late 1930s. The narration is good, though at times clinical, but the story keeps you wanting to listen.
I bought this book as while I was working in China. For me the murder mystery is interesting but really a vehicle for a look into the unique world of 1930s China.
A country where the money and power was split between a host of foreign nations all looking to get out before the heavy work of defending it from an aggressive neighbor came due. People divided by culture, wealth, beliefs, habits, politics, gender.
China is an amazing study of contrasts and it is constantly shown that China's past was more confusing than the present.
I would recommend reading this book just for the glimpse it gives into how China and the West have interacted in the past (and often continue to do so in the present).
The story was tedious and repetitive and. although it was apparently nonfiction, the plot strained credibility at certain points.
"The Good Earth" by Pearl Buck
Pamela's father was the most sympathetic character.
This book has all the elements of a good mystery. It's shocking in places. Would have liked to have learned a little more history of what was going on in the country at that time.
The second half was written in a very different style from the beginning, as if read out of a police report, very little action. I totally lost interest in the intriguing story.
Excellent performance. Couldn't have read it better.
The Q :While I drive, on public transportation, when there is a need to tune everyone out and transport myself to another place, another time...
No, very rarely a repeat listener.
Sadness, a life interupted is always a sad and tragic moment. Those close to it can never recover.
Fit the mood
Peking - the Legation Quarter and how the foreign police had to work with the Chinese police.
This was an interesting story, and the author's description of the city, the spaces, and the people gives it a richness and brings the reader to the place, time and movements.
Captivating, sad and true
The suspense involved though the outcome was known
The wealthy expats watching the war from the balcony
A poignant slice of history
This was a really good listen. It had all the elements of a good murder-mystery - a young socialite victim, sex, violence, corruption - set in the exotic background of the foreign quarters of pre-World War 11 Peking. Hard to believe it's a true story except In addition to the story line there is the bonus of the social life of the ex-pats and the Japanese build-up to the war.
Detailed knowledge of the life and experience living in Peking at that time.
Disappointment. Not neatly wrapped up for reader at the end. But this was true life. Life is not neat.
Not really attracted to any of the characters. More of an "arms length" experience. Watching from afar.
The continued dread of Japanese invasion which held over Peking at the time. And the timid or cowardly actions of the historical figures, Chaing Kai Shiek and Mao Te Sung. Essentially out of sight, out of mind while Peking suffered.
Book reminded me very much of "Devil in the White City". Details in this book were at times graphic and gruesome. But the historical detail was excellent and made the experience enjoyable.
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