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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Was Pamela?
I heard only one episode of "Midnight in Peking" on BBC Radio 4. I found it so gripping and intriguing that I stopped listening and immediately ordered the book from Amazon.co.uk ([I could have bought one from Amazon.com, but ordering the UK version of the book made it all the more exciting]). I was not disappointed.

Mr French's account of the unsolved brutal...
Published on 11 Jun 2012 by F. S. L'hoir

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Swiss Cheese?
I found this book a bit like Swiss cheese, pleasant enough to eat, easily digestible, but when you come to look at it full of holes. It is good at describing the feel and atmosphere of old Peking, as well as the complicated political situation. Read as a detective story, the reader is breathlessly drawn to agree with the assumptions of initially DCI Dennis and when he is...
Published on 11 Aug 2012 by KAW


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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Was Pamela?, 11 Jun 2012
By 
F. S. L'hoir (Irvine, CA) - See all my reviews
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I heard only one episode of "Midnight in Peking" on BBC Radio 4. I found it so gripping and intriguing that I stopped listening and immediately ordered the book from Amazon.co.uk ([I could have bought one from Amazon.com, but ordering the UK version of the book made it all the more exciting]). I was not disappointed.

Mr French's account of the unsolved brutal murder of young Pamela Werner in the last days before Peking fell to Japanese invaders riveted my attention from beginning to end. The author not only follows the evidential trail of the investigation meticulously, but he also evokes the ambience of Peking's vanished past. He sets the mood in the opening chapter with his evocative account of the reputed malevolent spirits that haunt the Fox Tower, the great eastern gate of the city. I loved his detailed descriptions that swept me from the outwardly respectable elegance of the Legation Quarter into the squalor of the Hutong--the tawdry maze of alleys--of the 'Badlands', with rickshaws, 'fast-food' restaurants, and brothels; where down-at-the-heels Russian emigrés mingled with pimps and prostitutes, as well as with 'respectable' people who were merely out for an evening's slumming.

The book's illustrations--including coloured photos, postcards; newspaper squibs; and black-and-white photographs of the protagonists--enhance the narrative (I especially liked the vintage photo of the long-gowned Peking gentleman walking his caged bird). My only complaint is the absence of a map, which would have aided me to visualise the topography of this vast city, since visualisation is important to appreciating the author's intricate descriptions (I found maps of the old city on the publisher's website, but I would have liked to have had one--even a diagram map--in the book; the omission seems singular in light of the other copious illustrations).

I especially liked the way that Mr French tells the story from the respective points of view of the Chinese Detective, the British Detective, and the Father. As the tangled mystery begins to unfold, we learn what each of them learns, and as they learn it. If we never actually discover Pamela's motivations (e.g., exactly why she was expelled from the various schools she attended in her short life), it is because the author is playing fair: he tells only what the evidence reveals, and he relates it gradually, as it is revealed, red herrings and all. Any further speculation about Pamela's character would take us into the realm of fiction, a temptation that the author rightly avoids.

'Who killed Pamela?' proves, in the end, less elusive than 'Who was Pamela?'--a question that remains unanswered. Part of the fascination with the case--and with Mr French's narrative--rests in the fact that Pamela, herself, remains a mystery. We catch only a glimpse of her. It is as if we had picked up copies of the 1937 newspapers, which were obsessed with the horrific murder, until even more horrific stories of a world gone truly mad pushed Pamela's story off the front pages forever.

Like the insubstantial fox spirits, which were said to flicker "briefly before disappearing" [247], Pamela's image flickers before us momentarily, and then simply disappears.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Midnight in Peking, 5 Jun 2012
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This is a really interesting and evocative true crime novel, set in Peking as it is poised on the brink of WWII. On a bleak January morning in 1937, the body of a young girl is found at the bottom of Fox Tower, a looming watchtower rumoured to be haunted by spirits. The girl is nineteen year old Pamela Werner and the motive is not robbery, as her expensive watch has stopped near midnight. The murder shocks the foreign inhabitants of Peking, who are already nervous about the possibility of invasion by Japanese troops and who huddle in the Legation Quarter trying to carry on life as normal. It shocks them still more when they discover the way Pamela's body has been mutilated.

The book contains detail of the hunt for Pamela's killer, her life as the adopted daughter of a scholar, motives for her murder and a final, thrilling and horrifying conclusion of what happened to her that fateful night. Along the way we meet the inhabitants of the teeming Badlands area, various cover ups and an innocent young girl who becomes the victim of rumour - viewed either as a troubled schoolgirl, or a rather fast young lady who had too many suitors. Her father is also the victim of those who dislike his inability to fit in with the ex pat community; who distrust his lack of sociability and his embracing of Chinese culture. This is a fascinating account of Peking before the war, of a forign community who were unwilling to accept any of them could be guilty of such a terrible crime and of the innocent Pamela herself who highlighted the community's insecurities. This is a well written and interesting account of what happened and, lastly, I read the kindle edition of this book and the illustrations were included.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Piece of Forgotten History from Colonial China, 13 July 2012
By 
Tommy Dooley "Tom" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This is the sad but true story of Pamela Werner, she was a plucky 19 year old adopted daughter of a former British consul - Edward Werner. She was brutally murdered and mutilated on a cold January night in the pre Communist Peking of 1937 and left for the wild dogs to feast on outside the allegedly haunted Fox Tower.

Paul French came across the story by chance by reading the autobiography of American journalist Helen Snow, who had gained fame for her shenanigans in China during the violent years that surrounded the Second World War - she had been there at the time and had felt that Pamela might have been mistaken for her on that fateful night. French has pieced together a ton of evidence and visited the sites of Peking to properly get a feel for the events. He also places the events into the historical and political context of the time; this was during the running sore of the Civil War between the Communists and the Nationalists as well as the Japanese incursion from Manchuria where their puppet regime was being used for further territorial gains of the new Japanese Empire. Whilst the Imperial Japanese Army gnawed at the gates normal life became more difficult in the now ex capital and a murder investigation became almost impossible. Both the Chinese police and the British Legation detective soon let the trail go cold, but Pamela's father was made of sterner stuff and the more he looked, the more skeletons fell out of more cupboards.

I found this to be an utterly absorbing read; from page one I was pretty much hooked. This is not because of the interesting story but because French has a style that is both accessible and engrossing. He has also provided a wide range of source material that shows he is not making stuff up, as I did think on a couple of occasions that he was using a bit of poetic licence with the tale, but no, he is just retelling the facts in a more vibrant way. He also has some pictures both from the time and of the places today which help make the characters come to life. All in all a great little piece of forgotten history that is brilliantly told and I very much look forward to his next one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fox Spirits at the Fox Tower, 21 Jun 2013
By 
HJK (Gomersal UK) - See all my reviews
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On a frozen morning in January 1937, the body of Pamela Werner, the teenage daughter of Peking's (Beijing's) former British consul is found - her heart has been removed ...

The body is found near the Fox Tower - a place with lots of superstitious stories about Fox Spirits & death.

Paul French looks at the historical facts about the case and gives us his conclusion on "who killed Pamela?" Of course we do not know if he is correct but what he does is give us the detail of how the case was handled and how much was swept under the carpet and tries to imagine from the evidence what might have happened.

I have not read many true-crime books but I certainly found this one very interesting. I have visited Beijing in the 1990s several times so was very interested in this book. I never saw the Fox Tower - from readings I gather that it has been restored more recently, but I have visited other similar towers and city walls.

His descriptions of life in China in the 1930s are very good as are the descriptions of the the old HUTONG - alley ways and paths - which have disappeared from much of Beijing today (especially I gather in rebuilding for the Olympics). These were brought to life and matched my recollection of other cities in China with the dirt & lack of street lighting.

I think if I had read about this murder as fiction I would have thought it very far fetched - as a true story it is quite shocking as to how it was investigated - one can only hope that a similar murder today would be treated better by the authorities.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping - but with slight reservations, 20 Sep 2012
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This is an engaging journalistic interpretation of the murder and consequent investigations into the death of Pamela Werner in 1937 Peking. I say `investigations' in the plural since the book follows first the official detectives, British and Chinese; and then, quite late in the book (p.172 of 245 pages), turns to the enquiries of Pamela's father. This is one of the slightly jarring notes in this book that could have been tightened up by a stricter editor. It feels a bit off, for example, that after we've been told that the police haven't been able to sleep for days, have been chain-smoking and drinking from stress and anxiety, that Pamela's father then finds that they haven't made some quite basic connections in the case, haven't circulated photos of possible suspects or even shown them around the street where Pamela lives - once the father does this, the case - apparently - is cracked open.

I didn't know anything about this story before reading the book so have no idea if other theories or solutions exist - certainly this is very reliant on contemporary newspaper sources and a father's notes for its `facts'.

The narrative, at times, gets a bit bogged down in people's back-stories rather than driving the `plot' forward - and the attempt to somehow make the Werner murder epitomise the last days of `old' China before World War II and the establishment of The People's Republic doesn't quite work.

That said, this is a gripping read - recommended with slight reservations.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Swiss Cheese?, 11 Aug 2012
I found this book a bit like Swiss cheese, pleasant enough to eat, easily digestible, but when you come to look at it full of holes. It is good at describing the feel and atmosphere of old Peking, as well as the complicated political situation. Read as a detective story, the reader is breathlessly drawn to agree with the assumptions of initially DCI Dennis and when he is removed from the case the dead girl's father E T C Werner. It appears open and shut, except...
When I considered it afterwards there are many unanswered questions. The author wholeheartedly agrees with the greiving father's unproven assumptions but there are several holes in his conclusions. I don't want to give away too many spoilers but as Werner was paying witnesses and investigators there is a big possibility that they were telling him what he wanted to hear, several disappear after doing just that. The author never really goes into why those he accuses would have inflicted the damage that was done to the body, if it was, as he suggests to avoid identification why leave clothing and personal items to be found. So for me the crime is still unsolved. What the book does do is reveal the callous indifference and face saving attitude of the British authorities in China at the time. Also unlike many books that deal with crime, this does not put the possible murderers centre stage, we are never allowed to forget the young victim and are haunted by a life unlived.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Midnight in Peking - fiction dressed up as fact, 26 Oct 2013
This review is from: Midnight in Peking: The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China (Paperback)
Midnight in Peking - Fiction dressed up as Fact

On first inspection, Midnight in Peking makes for a compelling story. Searching through British Foreign Office pre-war documents at the National Archives at Kew, writer Paul French chanced across the forgotten letters of ETC Werner, retired British consul, eccentric sinologist, and adoptive father of teenage murder victim, Pamela Werner, who was bludgeoned to death by persons unknown while cycling back to their Peking home from ice-skating one cold night in 1937. Her mutilated body, minus its heart, was found naked by the old city wall the next morning.
Intrigued, French read how, over the months and years leading to WW2, Werner's hopes for justice were frustrated by corruption and jealousy among the competing Chinese and British Legation police, obstruction from British diplomats bent on avoiding scandal, and the debauched nature of a western ex-pat community bent on keeping its sordid secrets. Undeterred, the elderly Werner carried on his own investigation, uncovering neglected leads and lost witnesses from among the Chinese community. His dogged persistence eventually led him to discover the shocking truth - a small party of `respected' Europeans preying on local girls for sex at knife-point. Pamela had made the fatal mistake of resisting them.
Isolated and ignored, Werner had despatched his typed letters to the British ambassador in Shanghai, detailing everything he had uncovered and appealing for justice. But it had got him nowhere - the establishment had to keep the lid shut on the scandal at all costs.
So, thanks to French's `reconstructed history', over seventy years after the cover-up and long after Werner's death, the true story could at last be told in the form of Midnight in Peking. The murderers - and all those who shielded them - finally exposed. Apparently, the book is a crime-solving success, achieving fine reviews and even winning awards for history-writing.
Except that Midnight in Peking's tale turns out not to be true. It's not even close. In fact, it's a travesty of history. And here is how.
ETC Werner, described as `morbidly suspicious' and `completely mad' by his peers, possessed a long history of libelling and lying. Never once admitting he was in the wrong, he argued with and disapproved of virtually everyone he had dealings with - colleagues, foreign diplomats, merchants, servants, and the general public throughout his entire career, on occasion resorting to violence. Indeed, so atrocious was Werner's behaviour that he was compelled to `retire' early from the Foreign Office - a rare event indeed in the annals of the department.
On the murder of Pamela, acting on his many long-standing hates and prejudices (and despite the police informing him he was entirely misguided), he firstly decided upon the guilt of his chosen suspects, then went about seeking to support his unfounded claims by procuring witnesses from among the poor of Peking by the simple inducement of money. Unsurprisingly, he found them. His letters to the ambassador amounted to little more than wild and unsubstantiated claims, accusing various foreign dentists and doctors of debauchery and murder, whilst simultaneously railing against police and officials for failing to entertain his delusions. The Foreign Office replied with politeness - the only thing possible in such circumstances.
But without any sense of proportion, Midnight in Peking presents Werner's word as though truth itself. Werner is presented as the sole seeker of justice. Everyone else is portrayed as a tired cliché: the hard-working and put-upon copper; the pompous and obstructive consul; the sexually abusive headmaster; the lying journalist. But much, much more importantly, the book unashamedly changes hard facts. One gross example involves changing the date of the victim's dental appointment by a whole six years, from 1930 to 1936 (thus bringing both it and the dentist within a month of the murder). Another has the `abusive' headmaster taking flight on the next boat home after the crime, when in reality the man was still present at school and speaking on speech-day months later (as featured in the very newspaper that MiP makes only part reference to). Arrests and interviews by the police are simply invented, and unreferenced actions and thoughts by all manner of characters presented as though fact. Page after page of characters' actions, motives and intentions go entirely without reference to source. Handily, for the sake of titillation, virtually every westerner in Peking is portrayed as debauched, incompetent, or corrupt.
The above factual anomalies have been raised with both the author and publisher, but have not met with an answer.
Of course the changing of facts and smearing of men's characters would not matter quite so much if the book was described as fiction. But the book claims much more than that:
"In Midnight in Peking no characters actions or words are invented, no locations are made up, the timeline is real and only what is known for sure is included- there are no suppositions, perhaps or maybes." Paul French (MiP USA website).
Claiming to be history earns Midnight in Peking veneer of scholarly respectability it does not deserve. In taking up Werner's crime-solving delusions and running with them it repeats his libelling of men now dead and unable to defend their names.
For a book claiming to be history, Midnight in Peking makes scant reference to sources, many of those it does include prove on examination to be either grossly inaccurate or misleading. For further and more detailed information, the below link takes the reader to a non-commercial website that, unlike the book, explores the wide range of existing evidence in the Pamela Werner case - hundreds of documents - including, uniquely, all of the all-important `Werner letters'.
[...]
G Sheppard (UK)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could not put book down, 21 April 2014
By 
Melanie Jane Coe "dancing queen" (cadiz, spain) - See all my reviews
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I was hooked from page one. Read the book over two days, as could not put it down. Fascinating and educational as well as exciting, mysterious and very well written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sharp story, 22 Mar 2014
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A very readable tale of prewar Peking, the last flickering of the British Empire and of the chaos of China in the 1930's - some good characters drawn, Han, Dennis even the vile Prentice who I suspect merit further scrutiny and a little fictional effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Oriental Mystery., 21 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Midnight in Peking: The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China (Paperback)
What a mystery! As someone interested in murder, both real and fictional, why had I never heard of this one? Perhaps because it happened in Beijing. This story of a father's pursuit of justice for his savagely murdered and mutilated daughter is a constant page-turner. Mr French approaches the mystery, not as a writer of detective fiction, but as an historian, and that adds to the story, he doesn't have to search for angles, the real plot is full of them! A great read about a slaying in the shadow of the Japanese atrocities in wartime China. This is a world that has disappeared but Paul French brings it vividly back to life.
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