Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Midnight in Peking by Paul French

On the frigid morning of January 8, 1937, an elderly man taking his caged songbird for a stroll along Peking’s Tartar Wall stumbled upon the hideously mutilated corpse of a young woman. The body was soon identified as that of Pamela Werner, the teenage daughter of British scholar Edward Werner, whose home was a stone’s throw from the Fox Tower where Pamela was discovered. Werner had been frantic with worry since the night before, when Pamela had failed to return home from an evening of ice-skating in the foreign-inhabited Legation Quarter. The entire city of Peking was shocked and terrified by this seemingly random crime. Who could have done such a thing? Was a madman on the loose? Could Pamela have been mistaken for someone else? Or had the ancient Chinese fox spirits lured the young girl to her death in order to nourish themselves upon the energy of her youth?

As horrific as Pamela’s murder was, it eventually went onto a back burner. Important clues fizzled and excellent leads failed to pan out. As time passed, the citizens of Peking had more pressing concerns as they braced for a Japanese invasion and the end of life as they knew it. But Edward Werner never gave up. His lifelong struggle to find his daughter’s killer is both electrifying and poignant, and what he was able to piece together before his death in 1954 is interesting indeed. Accompany Werner as he ventures into the seedy hutongs of a dying Peking, exposing sexual predators, rogues and thieves, and trying desperately to track down the person responsible for the death of his daughter.

Midnight in Peking is both heartbreaking and riveting. If you find that you enjoy true crime in foreign lands, read about the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre at the turn of the last century in The Crimes of Paris by Dorothy Hoobler. Or, if you prefer something more modern, check out Murder in Italy by Candace Dempsey for the inside scoop on a strange case involving an American college student.

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