With a day job as a columnist for the likes of the China Economic Quarterly, a book on a barbaric true crime would feature low on a list of things to expect from business analyst Paul French. The 1937 murder of the schoolgirl Pamela Werner investigated in Midnight in Peking is a far cry from French’s previous exploration of Chinese capitalism.
This does not, however, result in anything that reads like a novice’s attempt at sleuthing. Although essentially a reconstruction of events stemming from the discovery of Pamela’s badly mutilated body in Peking’s notoriously seedy Badlands district, French’s writing reveals a meticulous amount of research spent on not just gathering the cold, hard facts of the case, but also an astute understanding of the lives of China’s western émigrés. Rather than limiting himself to merely stating leads as they are discovered, he also manages to interweave the backgrounds of the victim, suspects and investigators into the abyss forming Peking’s underworld.
As French states in his afterword, “every false scent and misguided trail” was rechecked while writing his book, the result of which is apparent in the much-needed clarity shed on this dark tale.