Author Paul French released his latest novel, “Midnight in Peking” (Penguin Books, $16.00) on April 30. It is also available as an e-book.
This riveting book just won an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. The story surrounds an unsolved murder of a young Englishwoman and how it haunted the last days of colonial Peking and Old China. The Chinese language version will be published by Penguin China in the near future. Even more Chinese readers will delve into a fascinating period in Chinese history.
With editions published by Penguin US, Penguin UK, Penguin Australia, Penguin China, and Penguin Canada, it was truly a global publishing event. “Midnight in Peking” is an absolutely riveting true crime story that has received critical acclaim around the globe. French, a historian and China expert, has opened the books on a seventy-five-year-old unsolved murder and offers a glimpse into the last days of Colonial Peking.
Peking, January 1937. In the frigid winter air, the ancient Fox Tower—rumored to be home to the seductive fox spirits who steal men’s souls—keeps silent watch. The morning after Russian Orthodox Christmas celebrations, the city awakens to a hangover—and a murder. The mutilated body of British schoolgirl Pamela Werner is found at the base of the Fox Tower, on the edge of the Badlands. A shiver of fear and shock ripples through Peking. With the Japanese already in Manchuria and encircling Peking, the city is on high alert.
Chinese detective Han and visiting British detective Dennis team up to solve the case, battling time and the meddling of their respective bureaucracies. Dennis, a Scotland Yard man, attempts to recreate Pamela’s last days by combing through her diary and questioning her friends. A puzzling picture emerges of a girl who was sometimes a studious schoolgirl and other times a girl on the cusp of womanhood.
Han and Dennis’s investigation pulls them deep into Peking’s seedy underworld of crime, drugs, and prostitution. As the weeks progress and they get no closer to finding the killer, they are pressured to close the case by their superiors, the press, and the public. Dennis returns to Tientsin and Han closes the official investigation. Unsatisfied, Pamela’s father, ETC Werner, takes up the search for justice. What he uncovers is even more devious that Han and Dennis had suspected. Though no justice is served, the remainder of Werner’s life is consumed with the investigation into his daughter’s murder.
Almost seventy-five years after the murder of Pamela Werner, Paul French finally gives the case the resolution it was denied at the time. In the tradition of the true crime classics White Mischief and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, “Midnight in Peking” transforms a front page murder into an absorbing and emotional exposé, bringing the last days of old Peking to life.
Historian Paul French lives in Shanghai, where he is a business advisor and analyst. He frequently comments on China for the English-speaking press around the world. He studied history, economics, and Mandarin at university and has an M. Phil in economics from the University of Glasgow. He the author of a number of books, including Carl Crow: A Tough Old China Hand and Through the Looking Glass: China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao.