Friday, May 25, 2012

Midnight in Peking

Midnight in Peking is set in eerie, superstitious 1937 Peking.  In the opening pages, as Japanese forces are prepared to invade the city, the body of an Englishwoman is discovered, brutally murdered.  It didn't take long for me to get hooked and want to know more.  This true-life book was a page turner, with lots of plot twists and surprising discoveries along the way.

After the body of 20-year-old Pamela Werner is discovered, we learn that there are conflicting authorities involved.  Both the Chinese police and the English police, who have jurisdiction over the foreign quarter of the city, will be conducting investigations.  The foreign investigator, DCI Dennis, tries to piece together what happened on the night Pamela was murdered but comes across numerous roadblocks and is told that he may not conduct a search of the foreign quarter of Peking.  He is also told he may not have further contact with key people, including Pamela's father.

There are numerous complicated and suspicious characters involved.  It is clear that there is some kind of coverup going on.  But why?  And by whom?

As war gets closer and the political backdrop in China changes, DCI Dennis is forced to drop the investigation and Pamela's case is closed and considered to be unresolved.

After the official investigation is concluded, Pamela's father, desperate to find her killer, begins his own private investigation into her murder.  She was his only child and he is determined to spend every last cent of his fortune, if necessary, to bring her killer(s) to justice.  His private investigators follow obvious trails that had not been explored by the police.  They uncover inconsistencies and lies that help piece together what actually happened on the night of Pamela's murder.

The author, Paul French, reconstructs the events of what really happened to Pamela, based on her father's private investigation.  More than 70 years after her death, the truth finally is finally revealed. Pamela's case finally gets the closing argument it never had.   

The author also goes on to detail what happened to the other main characters in the book.  Each of their stories is interesting, especially in light of the time period they lived in.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Midnight in Peking was learning more about the history of that era in China.  I could put myself in the shoes of the foreigners who lived there and relive their experiences.  U.S. dollars stretched far in 1937 Peking and many foreigners lived opulent lifestyles.  In the end, those who did not flee occupied China were sent to Japanese internment camps in Southern China to endure hardships there.

This book was truly fascinating.  I would recommend it.  Pamela's body is now buried deep under modern Beijing.  But her tragic story of injustice will not be forgotten, thanks to Midnight in Peking.

Here is a link to an interview with author Paul French, who walks viewers through some of the places mentioned in the book. 

Caveat: there are some gruesome details about the mutilated body of the victim, if you are sensitive about those kinds of things.

Note: I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for a review.

No comments: