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Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China | [Paul French]

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

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? 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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (176 )
5 star
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4.1 (153 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Jeremy NEW YORK, NY, United States 01-04-13
    Jeremy NEW YORK, NY, United States 01-04-13 Member Since 2010

    This is the kind of styles I like: good pace, cerebral, well-documented, meaty, mind-bending.

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    "When history can be stranger than fiction"

    This book is the bizarre child of a history textbook and a police thriller. It starts as a detailed historical description of Peking just before WWII and then begins focusing on the more specific event of the ferocious murder of a young white woman, of the likes history has never seen before. In an unusual way of narration, the book meticulously progresses from the facts of the investigation, through the various players that participate to it and the facts that they uncover. The facts themselves seemed to have been drawn from the imagination of a fiction novelist but they are all true, but, at the same time, the book reads like a history book without any of the experiential narration that comes with novels.

    To be honest, I would have preferred that the dramatization be more novel-like and the style can get dry and boring at times. The problem with the historical narration is that the author is extremely distant to what is happening and most of the psychological angle is entirely lost. But the research, and the facts themselves are, on their own, enough to capture the imagination.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Helen Auburndale, MA, United States 06-05-12
    Helen Auburndale, MA, United States 06-05-12
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    "Old Murder Still Mysterious"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Midnight in Peking to be better than the print version?

    Can't say definitively-haven't seen the print edition, but based on the intricacies of the true story, I think the audible version may be better because the reader has made the details lively, where in print they might just appear as a paghe full of names dates and numbers.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    the author, because he was determined to unearth all the f acts and follow up all the forgotten or neglected old leads in hopes of solving the case so many years later. He vividly conveys the atmosphere of old China, is complexity and its many layers of superstition, rumor and European snobbishness.


    Have you listened to any of Erik Singer’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    My interest in this book derives from once knowing Michael HorJelski, and hearing of the murder of his girl friend from him in l938 or '39, when he looked me up in New York City.He was, understandably, quite disturbed by this unsolved murder and I never forgot his story. His father was a close school friend of my father when they were both boys in Poland. I had met Michael's father when I was a little girl, when he came to visit us during a business trip from China.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christina port charlotte, fl, United States 05-06-12
    Christina port charlotte, fl, United States 05-06-12 Member Since 2005
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    "Evocative"

    The historian author painstakingly reveals the details of a murder mystery in Peking just prior to the Japanese invasion. The book reveals the seamy side of the colonial/expat community. It describes a time in Chinese history I knew little about and appreciated becoming more familiar with.The description of the political climate of the time and the conquest of China by Japan adds urgency and interest to the tale as does the description of the unflagging devotion of the father, despite changing governments and armed conflicts to identify the murderer of his daughter.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sparkly SF, CA, United States 10-09-12
    Sparkly SF, CA, United States 10-09-12 Member Since 2008

    interested in history, science, and pulp fiction

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    "Informative, but not awesome."

    I tried to enjoy this book, but I just couldn't. I am interested in history in the broad sense, China in general, and Beijing in particular, and the book does tell a creepy, detailed story of the murder of a young English woman in 1930's Beijing, among the expatriate community. However, the author so doggedly sticks to the crime in question, and repeats the facts in an almost mercilessly literal way that there is little in the manner of context, or bigger picture. I wanted to stop the author and ask, "why are you telling this story?" That perspective was missing for me.

    On the plus side - the book incidentally sheds some light on the Japanese invasion of China, which prompted me to look for books on that subject.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lisa Martin Ohio 01-07-13
    Lisa Martin Ohio 01-07-13 Member Since 2010
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    "A REAL detective - and historian"

    This is very interesting- Mr French researched so much - he actually solves this crime for Pamela and her father- never knew Peking is Beijing- maybe it willl come up on Jeopardy someday- very enjoyable

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KathyLou 11-05-12
    KathyLou 11-05-12
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    "Intriguing true story depicts pre-war China."
    Would you consider the audio edition of Midnight in Peking to be better than the print version?

    I haven't read the print version. The audio edition is excellent and kept my attention.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    The development of the characters and their world captured my attention, as well as the details of the story itself. The story is written using some of the approaches used in fiction that reflect real life, like fore-shadowing and changes in characterization of individuals. Taking the tale to the very end of the characters lives was very important. Paul French provides a very convincing case with ample documentation that gives you a sense of what life was like for the characters.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Tragic story of a brutal murder; hard not to be sad.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Debra W. Haven, UT, USA 07-26-12
    Debra W. Haven, UT, USA 07-26-12 Member Since 2008
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    "midnight in Peking"
    Any additional comments?

    I really liked this book. I was concerned because I had heard it was hard to heel for the murdered girl. I didnt feel that, I feel like the book was more about the men who tried to bring her justice, and I felt for these men. I dont feel like I really needed to identify with the victim. I identified with the flawed haunted father. Truth is really stranger than fiction. Well done.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ramil C. Wright San Francisco 08-02-13
    Ramil C. Wright San Francisco 08-02-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Atmospheric, Compelling and Engaging"

    I read this book because my wife suggested it. She was right to do so. The book provides a murder mystery and, more importantly, a view of Peking in 1937 when the world was crumbling about the city as the Japanese invader moved increasingly closer and more influential. It is also a story of corruption, government interference (but not the Chinese government), and of relentless pursuit of information by a relative of the victim. Is the murder mystery solved? That is up the reader to decide. What makes this book most compelling is that is based on an actual set of events in 1937. The reader is very good and the story is skillfully told.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suzanne Sarasota, FL, United States 06-13-13
    Suzanne Sarasota, FL, United States 06-13-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Fascinating, a total winner"
    What did you love best about Midnight in Peking?

    A fascinating blend of history, murder and the dogged determination of one man to find his daughter's killers. Told against the backdrop of the fall of Peking to the Japanese and replete with British diplomats, white Russians, drug dealers and brothels.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emily Philadelphia, PA, United States 05-27-13
    Emily Philadelphia, PA, United States 05-27-13
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    "Fascinating account of odd people at an odd time."

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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