Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

I posted a review of this book on Good Reads awhile ago, before it won the Edgar for Best Fact Crime this year. Somehow I neglected to put anything about the book here.

Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China
It's an odd coincidence that this book forms such a perfect companion piece to Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts. Although I'm sure the publishers recognized a good popular history when they saw one, French tells us in the end how he came upon this tale, and I think it was the fact that it was an intriguing story more than any immediate sense of commercial possibilities that drove him on.

Both books are set in roughly the same period, this one beginning in 1937, Garden of Beasts in 1933. Both feature families of one culture thrown into another one on the verge of war, and both are particularly about the father and daughter of that family.

There, of course, the similarity stops. Germany and China are not much alike, and the personalities of the father/daughter pairs are not all that much alike either. But the device proves very flexible as a way of telling one family story and opening it up to render the society at large in a particular decisive and now lost moment.

As you read all the way through to the author's notes at the very end, you will realize how extraordinary it is that we have the story of what happened at all. It is down to a father's determination--though the fox spirits may have helped just a little.


  1. check out the link:

    then re-read the book....

  2. Thanks, Werner compilers. Another reader of this review had many questions about this book as well. I had thought this was in the comments here, but apparently it was in private email to me, so I don't feel at liberty to tell his version here. But perhaps he will come across this, or your website and you can all exchange ideas.