In 1937, everybody in Beijing was on edge. Except Pamela Werner. The nineteen-year-old daughter of a former British consul, Pamela had grown up comfortably, but largely unsupervised in Armour Factory Alley, outside the Legation Quarter where most foreigners in Beijing lived at the time. She confidently travelled between both worlds boldly declaring “I am not afraid of anything.” Unfortunately her confidence was misplaced.
In Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, Paul French uses the investigation of the vicious murder of Pamela Werner to highlight the tensions between the Chineseand the privileged foreign residents of the Legation Quarter and the fear that both felt with the impending Japanese occupation of the city. The detection work is restricted by the requirement that Col. Han Shih-ching work alongside British Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis with Col. Han discouraged from questioning foreigners and DCI Dennis restricted to investigation inside the Legation Quarter. Ultimately, her murder would be declared unsolved as the Japanese occupation took priority. Her father’s relentless quest to solve his daughter’s murder provided many of the resources Paul French calls upon to finally piece the puzzle together.
While this book is recommended for any fan of detective fiction or Chinese history, it was especially engaging if you are familiar with or planning a trip to Beijing. Using the the map and audio tour at the book’s website, plan a walk along Pamela’s route from her house, through the Badlands and into the Legation Quarter. Kuijiachang Hutong where Pamela and her widowed father lived on Armour Factor Alley is suitably spooky while the Tartar Wall near the Fox Tower (where her body was found) is magical at night – filled with people dancing in the park and, in spring, the scent of cherry blossoms. The hulking embassy buildings with their distinctive architecture make a striking end to the trek, but don’t stop there. Keep going past the official walk to swanky Capital M (just south of Tiananmen Square) for drinks overlooking Zheng Yang Gate.