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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an absorbing and extremely well constructed study of a real murder case.

The basic facts could have been related in a volume half the length, but much of French's text consists of historical background - descriptive passages of locations, interiors, reconstructed (or conjectured) conversations and projected scenarios of what may have happened. This can be very shaky ground for an author dealing with a real, historical event or - as here - something as distressingly sensitive as a murder case, but French never tampers with the facts; he uses these descriptive devices to provide context, to evoke period atmosphere and create - for the modern reader - a real feel for the people and social settings of his subject matter. The result is a compelling, vivid tale uncovering some of the murkier aspects of expatriate life in Peking that would be swept away by the brutal invasion of the Japanese. More disturbingly, French also exposes the petty and inept nature of those in charge of the British legation who clearly engineered a cover-up and did their utmost to prevent any real investigation from taking place.
The narrative unfolds at the pace of a gripping novel; The detail and thoroughness of research that has gone into this volume is evident and rewarding - it never flags or loses one's interest. E. T. C. Werner's own investigation - which forms the platform for French's conclusion - is arguably the most impressive element of the book.

To say that I enjoyed this, given that it is a real-life tragedy seems somehow wrong, but it is a thought provoking read that leaves one feeling outraged at the wilful denial of justice in the case.
A thoroughly recommendable book, well worth your time.
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on 1 July 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the time of her murder Pamela Werner was a 19-year-old schoolgirl living in Peking (now Beijing) with her elderly father, a noted scholar and former British Consul. The city at the time was full of wealthy foreigners enjoying the tea dances, cocktails, bridge parties, and gossip that came with expatriate life. They lived in the Legation Quarter, a walled area over which the Chinese had no jurisdiction. Alongside this privileged bubble was the Badlands, another area mostly populated by foreigners who made a sordid living in its bars, opium dens, and brothels. The year, however, was 1937 and the Japanese were closing in on the city and time was running out for the people of Peking and their former lives.

Pamela's murder shook this community and the case was made even more dreadful by the gruesome mutilations that had been perpetrated on her body. In "Midnight in Peking" French recounts the investigation into her murder, the competing interests of the various parties, and the many dirty secrets uncovered by the investigation (as well as the shocking cover-ups which followed).

French vividly recreates Peking at this pivotal point in history using Pamela's murder to cast a spotlight on its inhabitants and their lives. Pamela's father, 72 at the time of her death, emerges as a sort of hero, doggedly staying on the case and finally solving a mystery which no-one else had the time or inclination for. Although non-fiction "Midnight in Peking" reads like a novel at times with French recreating his subjects' thoughts and cleverly marshaling his facts to keep the reader in suspense. I suspect that a lot of details have been lost with the passage of time, but sometimes I did find myself wanting more information. I also felt the inclusion of a map would have been very helpful. These are minor complaints, though, and overall I found this a fascinating insight into a vanished world.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 17 June 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The author Paul French was researching at the National Archives at Kew when he found an unreferenced file in one of a number of boxes of 'correspondence sent from Peking during the years 1941-45.' Looking further he realised that he had discovered information about a private investigation made by the the former British consul, E.T.C. Werner, into the murder of his beautiful adopted daughter, Pamela.

Pamela Werner's body had been found on a cold morning in January 1937, near to the city's Fox Tower and sparked a manhunt, led by two detectives, one Chinese, Colonel Han Shih-ching and one British, DCI Richard Dennis but found their progress increasingly hampered.

Pamela's father hired his own investigators to continue the inquiry, costing him financially but it did eventually lead to answers.

The backdrop to this murder was set against the Japanese invasion, and soon everyone was more concerned with that and the case was forgotten.

It is obvious that the author has completed an immense amount of research, sifting police reports, newspaper cuttings and correspondence to put the pieces of the jigsaw together. He checked every trail, and detail of the case and revealed more fascinating details of the Peking 'social scene' in his attempt to identify the killer.

I enjoyed this book which is part history, part murder case review and makes a gripping read.
It is in equal measure , engaging and interesting, in respect of the crime, the city, it's historical context, and the dogged determination of the author in revealing the true story, and the victim's father who never gave up.

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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Midnight in Peking is the story of two investigations into the murder of Pamela Werner, adopted daughter of the former consul, in the dying days before the Japanese occupation. The first, by a Chinese and a British detective, is upright and ineffective, blocked at every turn by bureaucracy and the need to save face. The second, by the grieving father, takes us deep in to the Peking Badlands, uncovering a horrific Twin Peaks-esque plot of sexual predators preying on young and impressionable ex-pats.

Writer Paul French came across the story in another book. In deciding to follow it up, he came across the painstaking accounts sent by Werner to the Foreign Office in London -- filed and ignored since the 1940s -- which gave a complete account of everything that happened. French's task was to present it to the world as a story that should be known. He freely and gratefully acknowledges that the detective work was Werner's.

I first heard two chapters of this book on BBC Radio 4. When I finally got hold of a copy, I couldn't put it down until I was finished. Marvellously detailed and told in a matter-of-fact, police investigation way, it is a gripping detective story but also a superb evocation of the final days of Old China.

This would have been a great story even if fiction. That it is true makes it much more.

I believe this book will be read and enjoyed for many years to come.
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on 28 May 2017
A brilliant read
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Midnight in Peking by Paul French is a book which I highly recommend to all readers. I would go as far as too say it is one of those books which you will read but never will you be able to forget.
I loved reading this book though it was a heart breaking tale about a young girl Pamela Werner who had her life to lead but lost it under tragic circumstances in the most cruel of ways. This book not only will show you how the police fought against each other seeking out the killers of this beautiful girl, but they also had superstitions and rumours to fight against along with all the other enemies which hid in the streets of old China. But as well as enemies they could see which they had to fight against to seek out the truth but also the hidden enemies mainly those that held unto the power which controlled the streets of Peking in more ways than one mainly in an illegal manner. With these enemies who hid their evil so well but lived and worked among those seeking the truth it made that quest for justice for Pamela so much harder to find especially for the one man who loved her most and that was her father Edward Werner.
The writer Paul French is an excellent writer who takes the reader on a journey back to the old days of China and shows the reader how life was lived back then before Japanese took it over during the Second World War. Paul French's writing is so vivid I could almost see in my mind the old China in which this horrible crime took place but he not only shows the geographical descriptions but he also showed how hard it was for Pamela's father Edward Werner to seek the truth after all those around him had given up. You will learn how a Father fought against those who stood for nothing good in the world but he kept searching for evidence to charge those who committed this horrible crime against Pamela. Edward Werner needed to know what his daughter went through, though he knew it would break his heart all over again but for him he wanted justice for the only good thing he had in his life and that was his adopted daughter Pamela.
I enjoyed reading this book mainly because the writing was so good that the writer showed the facts of a horrible murder but showed it to the reader in an open and factual way. The writer showed how those who sought the truth but were constantly blocked by those more powerful than them. He was fit to show the reader what exactly happened all those years ago in Peking and how it affected those who were connected to the crime and it was an excellent eye opening read. The author showed the many superstitions which the old communities held within which controlled every matter of their lives but it also showed the bad side of Peking especially the life which was lived in the back streets.
I highly recommend Midnight in Peking by Paul French too all readers who like books based on facts but also who will show you a life which was once lived but should never be forgotten.
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on 12 June 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm not sure why I chose this book to read because I don't know anything about the time or the place and I had never heard anything about the murder of Pamela Werner before. I am, however, really glad that I picked it out because I was enthralled from start to finish.

Peking in the late 1930s was a city on the brink of an abyss. The Japanese were looming, the government of China was in disarray and conflict in Europe was drawing ever nearer. On a freezing January day a young girl's body was found at the base of the Fox tower watchtower just outside the British legation quarter. The body had been badly mutilated and her heart and other organs were missing.
The murder of this young laowai (foreigner), who was identified as Pamela Werner the daughter of a former British consul, sent shock waves through the Peking community of all races and cultures and what follows in this engrossing book is a thorough re-examination of the evidence.

Paul French uncovers the violent, decadent and shocking lives of the expatriate community in Peking and the drug and drink fuelled underbelly of the city. Pamela Werner's father, E.T.C Werner, was a familiar figure in the Peking community. He was a reclusive academic who had made some enemies but the stonewalls, conspiracy and cover-ups he encountered in his search for his daughters killers make the reader feel as angry and as impotent as he must have felt at the time.

Paul French's book has written a brilliantly absorbing true crime book which had me gripped from beginning to end. The background story of Peking's implosion and the tricky relationships between the different cultures are really interesting and help to set the scene and the crime in context. French cuts through the rumour and gossip that surrounded the murder to bring Pamela herself to life again and show her as the young, independent innocent that she clearly was who had no idea how dangerous Peking really was.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 9 June 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A wonderfully written and researched book, detailing the lives and times of 'society' people - mainly British - in 1930s Peking. Also detailing the rotten core of a society turning a blind eye to vice, murder and crime in general.

White society - again mainly British/English - wanting to ignore or hide the scandals tat erupted now and again. The Brits not wanting to let slip the public face or respectability and stiff-upper-lipness. Pretending that things did not happen. Ignoring the deep-filled putridness, not only of the 'underclasses', but especially of those of the upper classes, the club members - the wealthy.

Pamela Werner was a girl who was looking for some escape from her life, but unfortunately found something much, much worse. The anger one feels at the stupidity and temerity of the ruling classes of the time and place is matched only by the sorrow one feels for the lack of respect for one man - her father.

A book that must be read by people who pretend that - even today - 'society people' are beyond reproach. People who believe that it is only the poor and downtrodden who are capable of crime and ugliness.

One feels that today money & influence still have the power to perjure and distort truth and justice. It is shameful to read that it was the Americans - and other 'foreigners' who offered to help. The British establishment turned their backs, ignoring and slandering.

This book deserves to be at the top of the best seller lists for a long-long time. There should be a major TV investigation done. This should all be brought out into the light, in the hope that this kind of thing is never allowed to happen again.

Brilliant, shocking, searing, damning and fascinating all in equal measure.
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