Sunday, September 22, 2013

Midnight In Peking How The Murder Of A Young Englishwoman Haunted The Last Days Of Old China by Paul French

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you probably know by now that I have a fascination for unsolved mysteries. This book introduced me to a new one, a long cold case from 1937 when on a cold January morning in 1937 the viciously mutilated body of an English schoolgirl named Pamela Werner was discovered lying at the base of an ancient watchtower, the Fox Tower in Peking, an area said by the superstitious locals to be haunted at night by fox spirits that feed on the souls of the innocent.

Who would want to kill Pamela? The pretty gray-eyed blonde was the daughter of the acclaimed scholar and retired British Consul, E.T.C. Werner. Was the perpetrator a madman, a sex fiend, a Japanese soldier, or one of the fox spirits the natives feared so? Two detectives, one British, the other Chinese, teamed up, to try to solve the crime and bring Pamela’s killer to justice, racing against time as the Japanese steadily advanced on Peking.

The author of this fascinating true crime book spent seven years investigating the case. Through his research, we learn about the supposedly respectable dentist, who operated a nudist colony in the hills and lured innocent young girls to wild sex parties attended by prominent men; rumors of sexual improprieties committed by the headmaster of a prestigious private school; and the theory that Pamela’s murder was in reality a case of mistaken identity and that the real target was a journalist’s wife; through his words we visit dive bars, seedy cafes, and brothels, at a time where cultures clashed, sometimes dangerously, in Peking, while the rest of the world fixated on headlines about Amelia Earhart, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Hitler, the Hindenburg  and the Golden Gate Bridge, as the Japanese conquerors advanced on Peking, and America suffered through the Great Depression.

Eventually Pamela was forgotten. The police gave up and moved on to other cases, and Peking was more preoccupied with the invading Japanese than finding out who had killed a British schoolgirl. But Pamela’s father refused to give up, with the same relentless determination with which he had once studied ancient Chinese scrolls, he studied the case files and pestered the police to keep the investigation active. His persistence paid off and he found clues the police either missed or ignored; clues the author reveals along with what probably happened to Pamela and how and why she died.

This was a fascinating book from start to finish; it vividly recreates a vanished world, and resurrects a long cold case and a victim long forgotten. For both true crime and history buffs, as well as fans of mystery and detective stories, I highly recommend this book.


Kathleen Kelly said...

That is one heck of a title!!!!

librarypat said...

This is a most intriguing story. You always bring such interesting books to our attention. I'll be checking this one out.

Brandy Purdy said...

Thank you so much librarypat, that is so nice of you to say, whenever I can I like to turn the spotlight on books that might be overlooked or have gone out of print and been largely forgotten. I only wish I could manage my time better so I had more time to read.