Midnight in Peking, By Paul French
Real-life crime as strange and startling as fiction
The story would be classified as a police procedural if it were fiction, but the shocking murder that triggered the investigation so brilliantly described in these pages was only too real.
It took place in pre-war Peking when the moribund city, no longer capital, was on the brink of invasion by the Japanese. The victim was 19-year Pamela Werner, the mildly rebellious adopted daughter of E.T.C.Werner, an elderly Anglo-German colonial judge turned academic whose wife had died when Pamela was an infant.
On the cusp between a "plain", sporty schoolgirl and a slender, poised young woman, Pamela was eager for grown-up company – "I've always been alone," she said – before obeying her father's wish to complete her education in England.
Both sides of Pamela were present on a cold January night in 1939, when, after skating with a schoolgirl friend, she secretly accepted an invitation to a racy party. Her body, scarcely identifiable due to appalling mutilations, was found on the following morning at the foot of the Fox Tower, a 15th century structure believed to be haunted by fox spirits. In a unique collaboration, the murder was investigated by British detective Richard Dennis, who could probe the Legation Quarter closed to the Chinese, and Colonel Han of the Peking Police.
Their steady, assiduous picking at the case occupies the first two-thirds of the book. French, who is based in Shanghai, gives a wonderfully atmospheric evocation of expatriate Peking, from grand hotels to seedy brothels. When the police were eventually withdrawn from the case by their respective authorities, the case was pursued by Pamela's distraught father, who had the money, the legal training and, above all, the obsession to finish the job. But by this stage, the Japanese had overrun Peking.
A crime story set among sweeping events is reminiscent of Graham Greene, particularly The Third Man, while French's terse, tightly-focussed style has rightly been compared to Chandler. Midnight in Peking deserves a place alongside both these masters.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Tennis fan suing Australian Open organisers for 'failing to shade spectators' during Murray match
- 5 Syrian refugee child beaten by Istanbul Burger King manager for eating customer’s leftover food
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction
Alfred Hitchcock's unseen Holocaust documentary to be screened
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Photographer Matt Lankes' portraits of the cast of Boyhood influenced the film's storyline
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners