Paul French, author of 'Midnight in Peking,' tells how the murder of a British diplomat's teenage daughter shook both Chinese and foreigners in pre-war Peking.
Still, Peking has plenty of vice, much of it based right next to a diplomatic enclave full of Western-style hotels, saloons, and shops. It's a volatile mix, and in 1937 it becomes a deadly one: a vivacious young British woman is found brutally murdered and mutilated.
In his new book Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, author Paul French tells the true-life story of a shocking murder that occurred as China itself stood on the edge of catastrophe in the shadow of a looming World War II.
"Midnight in Peking" is true-crime writing at its best, full of vivid characters, an exotic locale, secrets galore, and a truly bewildering mystery.
In an interview, French talks about the fear spawned by the death of a diplomat's daughter, the stray footnote that spawned his book, and the international "driftwood" who called China home during the Great Depression.
Q: What was happening in Peking – now Beijing – in early 1937, when the young woman was so viciously murdered?
A: This was absolutely the last gasp of old China. The Japanese have surrounded Peking, and it's not really a question of if Japan is going to invade China, but when.
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