Review: Midnight in Peking

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Midnight in PekingMidnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French
Published by Penguin on April 24, 2012
Genres: History, Mystery
Pages: 260
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Winner of the both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Non-Fiction Dagger

Peking in 1937 is a heady mix of privilege and scandal, opulence and opium dens, rumors and superstition. The Japanese are encircling the city, and the discovery of Pamela Werner's body sends a shiver through already nervous Peking. Is it the work of a madman? One of the ruthless Japanese soldiers now surrounding the city? Or perhaps the dreaded fox spirits? With the suspect list growing and clues sparse, two detectives—one British and one Chinese—race against the clock to solve the crime before the Japanese invade and Peking as they know it is gone forever. Can they find the killer in time, before the Japanese invade?

Historian and China expert Paul French at last uncovers the truth behind this notorious murder, and offers a rare glimpse of the last days of colonial Peking.

First Sentence: “The eastern section of old Peking has been dominated since the fifteenth century by a looming watchtower, built as a part of the Tartar Wall to protect the city from invaders.”

Review:
I’ve never read a true crime book before, I don’t think, although given my memory I could be forgetting. Anyway, I was willing to give it a shot. Although I do not think true crime will be my new genre of choice, I definitely do not walk away from Midnight in Peking with a bad opinion of the genre.

From what I understand, which is very little, true crime can go one of two ways: very historical and fact-driven or very fictional and sensational. This is based solely on the covers I’ve seen and perhaps reviews. The genre seems to straddle the boundary between history and fiction, which is part of why I’ve avoided it up to now, because I’ve not been sure precisely what it entails. Whether my assumptions were correct or not, I can say with assurance that Midnight in Peking is definitely a true crime history. French clearly did a lot of research and the book reads like anything I would have read for my history major in school.

Having looked at some reviews of the book prior to writing this one, I know that some people had trouble with the level of detail in the book. I both liked and didn’t like that. I don’t know much of anything about China during that time period, so learning about it was fascinating, but it didn’t always seem to add into Pamela’s story particularly. So, I guess, I just want to say that you’ll likely enjoy this more if you go into it expecting it to be about the last days of old China, with Pamela’s brutal murder serving as a lens through which to view the situation.

Pamela’s story is certainly an interesting and, as a woman, completely terrifying one. To be a little bit morbid, I really hope that, should I ever be murdered for some reason, that the killer comes to justice. It may not matter to me, what with the being dead and all, but I feel like I would feel better. The things that people do to women are simply horrifying. Also, the fact that they really should have caught her killer, but that the cops didn’t do their jobs…NOT COOL.

Whether French has the correct analysis and killer is unclear, even he openly admits that. His solution does make sense and he’s done his research. I greatly appreciated that he pointed out in a section at the end, “The Writing of Midnight in Peking” which parts he wrote entirely on his own, which he got from other investigators, what research he did and how everything could still be different The fact that he’s open with the limitations of his research makes me more trusting of his results.

History, mystery and true crimes will likely enjoy Midnight in Peking even more than I did.

7 responses to “Review: Midnight in Peking”

  1. Steena says:

    Want, want, WANT! I had this book on my reading list when you listed it In [Your] Mailbox.

  2. Suz says:

    Thanks for this giveaway – I would love to win! My favorite crime show is the Closer. I’m bummed it’s going off the air because it’s so much fun to watch.

  3. Suz says:

    FYI, I’m Suz Reads in Rafflecopter.

  4. Debbie says:

    I noticed this title yesterday and it caught my eye. Sounds intriguing!

  5. Kylie says:

    I do love NCIS!

  6. Gale Nelson says:

    I am a Law and Order junkie!!!! Love all of them! Thanks for the giveaway! Gale

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