Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China (Penguin, Apr. 24), Paul French’s compelling true crime/world history work, centers on the murder of Englishwoman Pamela Werner in a Peking on the verge of falling to the Japanese in WWII. As the investigation unfolds, French dissects a complex and perilous period in history, making for a double dose of suspense. Dense, atmospheric detail brings old Peking to life, from the towers on the walls to the gutters of the underworld; the clashing of Eastern and Western cultures amplifies the tension. Both factions strive to save face even as the old capital city slips toward its inevitable doom, with malicious fox spirits and packs of savage dogs nipping at her heels. A narrative as driven as Edward Werner’s pursuit of his daughter’s killers makes Midnight tough to put down. And like the best true crime writing, French sifts through corruption, misleading journalism, and forgotten correspondence to identify murderers whose crimes have gone unnoticed for 75 years—unnoticed, in fact, until French’s Midnight.
Volume 259 Issue 12 03/19/2012