Midnight in Peking

Midnight in Peking

How the Murder of A Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

Large Print - 2012
Average Rating:
12
Rate this:
Historian and China expert Paul French uncovers the truth behind the notorious murder of Pamela Werner, and offers a rare glimpse of the last days of colonial Peking.
Publisher: Waterville, Me. : Thorndike Press, 2012
Edition: Large print ed
ISBN: 9781410448965
1410448967
Characteristics: 435 p. (large print), [16] p. of plates : map, ports., photos ; 23 cm

Opinion

From the critics


Community Activity

Comment

Add a Comment

FederalWayEdna Jun 19, 2015

True story based on the murder of a young woman in Peking and how the investigation was deterred by the white elitists foreigners living in the city and by the political environment of the 1930's despite the determination of the young woman's grief-stricken father and his own productive investigations and results. A heart-wrenching story for any parent in a situation compounded by "bad timing."

Eric_P Jul 14, 2014

Perhaps the most successful literary fraud since the 1983 Hitler Diaries. With a bit of fact-checking, it completely collapses. Even without fact-checking, an attentive reader will find holes so big that you could drive a truck through them.

To take one example, on p.143, the author implies that his villain, W.B. Prentice, is a child molester who is a threat to his own daughter:

"Prentice’s wife, Doris Edna, and their three children, Doris, Wentworth and Constance, had gone back to America in 1932, settling in Los Angeles. They had not returned to Peking since. The American Legation had no formal record of a divorce, but it seemed that Prentice had been living without his family for some years now.

“There was another thing. The Americans had been concerned for the welfare of Prentice's youngest child, his daughter Constance. A file on her had been opened at the legation in 1931, but there was just one line in it: 'Prentice, Miss - Nov. 28, 1931 - 393.1115/14 - Welfare of American in China, Safety of.' There were no details in the file. Nor did the legation have anything more concrete to offer. Dennis didn't know if Doris had left Peking voluntarily, or if Prentice had sent her away, of if she'd fled in order to protect her children from something. Or someone."

French reiterates on p. 224 (upper middle): "No rumour had ever leaked out concerning the fears the U.S. authorities had for his daughter's welfare, were she to stay in his presence. But the fact was that Edna Prentice had taken her three young children and left Peking, never to return. Divorce might have been impossible, but Edna made sure that her husband never had contact with his children again.”

According to the author himself, these passages are all based on a single line of text in the State Department file in the U.S. National Archives. (He omits to tell us that the file is merely a cross-reference to another file.) But Dr. Prentice had two daughters, as the author notes. Are we to understand that one of them was in danger, and the other was not? How does the author know which of the daughters was in danger, and why not the other? How does he know even that the “Miss Prentice” referred to was one of Dr. Prentice’s daughters? He does not tell us.

Doubts about Mr. French’s veracity might be aroused, if we knew that Mrs. Prentice and her three children had returned to the States in 1926, not 1931. They are found on the passenger list for the S.S. President Lincoln, departed Shanghai for San Francisco on June 9, 1926 (which can be found at www.ancestry.com, by searching for Doris Edna Prentice). According to the 1930 U.S. Census, she was residing in Santa Monica, California at the time of the census. In 1931 and 1932, the Santa Monica telephone directory indicates that she continued to reside there.

Our doubts might be further stirred if we knew that there was another "Miss Prentice" living in north China: a missionary nurse/educator named Margaret May Prentice worked at the Episcopal Hospital in Tientsin (85 miles from Peking) from 1924 to 1943.

One possible solution offers itself: to use the citation French supplies and request the indicated file from the U.S. National Archives. When we do, we find a document, a telegram from Tientsin which states that, “Consul Atcheson, accompanied by Captains Brown and Barrett and Lieutenant Royce of the 15th United States Infantry, succeeded this afternoon in bringing into foreign areas and safety the remaining American members of the Methodist Mission situated in the Chinese city, namely the Misses Jacquet, Prentice, Bedell, Baronn, and Mr. and Mrs. Coole.” That is the entire basis for the insinuation that Wentworth Prentice was a child molester.

The author also suggests, on p.243, that Prentice was a Japanese collaborator. Perhaps the reader would prefer to evaluate the evidence for himself, and form his own conclusions about the author's methodology.

a
AllieTaylor
Aug 18, 2013

I gave this three stars only as it is incredibly irritatingly written. The story, in and of itself, is utterly compelling – no question at all BUT there are no notes AT ALL. No bibliography to speak of. None of this matters, of course, if writing a novel, but with non-fiction, a much more rigorous process is required, particularly with some of the detail presented. I find it to be igregious padding to write what someone is thinking (! For G*od's sake) as he walking down the street, or looking out a window! Now, if the author had a personal diary or a made a statement to that effect, then the author should say where it came from. Otherwise, it's just turning a fascinating story into just that - a mere story. This happened a lot - not just once or twice. In places, it was used to turn plot in a different direction. Unacceptable.

Additionally, much hinged on the geography of old Peking - a better map than the end papers would have been extremely useful. As would a list of the personae dramatis. A time line (at the end) that worked in parallel to show what happened and how the investigation unfolded would have made it so much easier to understand (Werner's main problem) and much more compelling.

In short, worth the effort BUT it could have been SO MUCH better!

Library_Dragon May 07, 2013

Endlessly fascinating and extremely well-written. Wonderful piece of historical true crime. Highly recommended!

m
maipenrai
Feb 17, 2013

*** 1/2 Examines the murder of a young woman in 1937. Interesting period of time - British colonialism - Chinese revolution - Japanese invasion. British and Chinese police detectives attempt to solve the murder amid growing chaos. I enjoyed the history as much as the investigation

v
VeronicaMratinich
Oct 14, 2012

left off on page 117.

f
fjvalentin
Sep 12, 2012

An interesting read delving into the workings of 1930's China and the British foreign office still wrapped in colonial customs. More importantly, a look into the excrutiating efforts of a father determined to find out who had killed his daughter, and the circumstances of her last hours.

d
dcafk
Sep 06, 2012

This is a compelling book. Though non-fiction, it reads like fiction and I found it impossible to put down. Plus, the historical context is extremely interesting. It was enlightening to learn about the inner workings of the British foreign office as they made fateful decisions based on saving face rather than achieving justice for the murdered Pamela Werner.

(Staff) Elaine Bird Aug 22, 2012

Facinating story - a real life murder set in turbulent pre-WWII China. I found the description of time and place very interesting as it is something I know littel about. The story is compelling - all the more because the murderer or murderers were never caught, although the author does find some answers.

d
dorothy1
Aug 21, 2012

An historian turns sleuth in this gripping look at a terrible murder left "unsolved"...till now.

View All Comments

Age

Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.

Summary

Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.

Notices

Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Quotes

Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings

  Loading...

Find it at SMPL

  Loading...
[]
[]
To Top