Review: Midnight in Peking by Paul French

Midnight in Peking by Paul French, based on a true series of events and set in 1937 Peking, explores the murder and subsequent investigation of a young British woman. The horrific crime took place during a period of political and cultural turmoil involving the Chinese, Japanese, British and White Russians.

The book begins by describing the political situation at the time the murder took place. I was somewhat baffled at first. I often find politics to be a complicated topic and even more so when it’s the politics of a country not my own. But it turned out to be a quick summary and it wasn’t long before I realized that this description had an important place in the story. The investigation into the death of this young woman would require all the diplomacy and tact possible by the British as well as the Chinese investigators and to understand the subtleties involved the reader needs to have an idea of the goings on at the time, and this the author provides.

Midnight in Peking would read like a modern day fictional mystery except for the fact that the crime actually did happen. The political figures, criminal investigators and newspaper reporters are historical figures and therefore much is known about them. Hence, the author has a rich resource of material to draw from. The book is also accompanied by photos of the main players in this drama which helps to put a human face to the descriptions of some of the behavior described.

The story is written in clear, concise script and told chronologically. And though the author introduces quite a few characters, they are not difficult to keep straight given that they are written with individual personalities, positions and status within Peking society. The book is well researched and documented and the author has made more information available on his website where you can find a map with points of interest, photos of old Peking, original news clippings – all sorts of fascinating data.

I think this book would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers: those who like mysteries, true crime, cultural history and politics. Without giving anything away, I can safely say that Midnight in Peking is a fascinating look at what can happen when diplomacy wins over justice…and when it does not. Highly recommended.

Mailbox Monday, April 23, 2012

In April Mailbox Monday is being hosted by my friend Cindy at Cindy's Love of Books.

I didn't receive any books in the mail last week but I did buy one based on a review I saw on A Bookworm's World. When I read what Luanne had to say about The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen it went straight on my to-buy list. The description of this book from Penguin's website reads:

Four friends, recent college graduates, caught in a terrible job market, joke about turning to kidnapping to survive. And then, suddenly, it's no joke. For two years, the strategy they devise-quick, efficient, low risk-works like a charm. Until they kidnap the wrong man.

Now two groups they've very much wanted to avoid are after them-the law, in the form of veteran state investigator Kirk Stevens and hotshot young FBI agent Carla Windermere, and an organized-crime outfit looking for payback. As they all crisscross the country in deadly pursuit and a series of increasingly explosive confrontations, each of them is ultimately forced to recognize the truth: The true professionals, cop or criminal, are those who are willing to sacrifice . . . everything.

A finger-burning page-turner, filled with twists, surprises, and memorably complex characters, The Professionals marks the arrival of a remarkable new writer.

Review: White Horse by Alex Adams

I had a certain idea of what White Horse, by Alex Adams, was going to be like before I started reading it. I thought the blurb sounded interesting and it reminded me of daydreams I had when I was a teenager about a movie, the title of which I’ve long forgotten, of a man who was one of the very few left in the world after a catastrophe wipes out humanity. What would I do in those circumstances? Well, from the blurb, White Horse sounded like my childhood daydreams but after the first page I knew I’d never imagined anything like this.

Then it made me think of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a book I was not very fond of. Fortunately I saw differences almost right away. Whereas in The Road, the idea of hope was conveyed with contempt, I sensed hope was the backbone of White Horse; every page is imbued with it even as events make it seem there’s nothing worth fighting for.

This novel is so rich in detail and imagination that every page brought new surprises. Sometimes I found myself rereading a paragraph to decipher what the author meant and then it would hit me a paragraph or page later – ah hah! But it’s so cleverly written that if there had not been an ‘aha’ moment it wouldn’t have mattered. That’s the way this book is – it infuses the culture of a new world order around the reader so well that its meaning sinks in without realization.

The main character is likeable so I rooted for her on every page. She’s brave, focused and honest. Even at the most cringe-worthy moments, it was difficult to put down. The only issue I would have with this book is the cover. Something about it gave me the idea that White Horse leans towards the YA genre. Wrong! Not YA at all. And of course the blurb does start off saying ‘thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life…’ which should dispel any the notion that it’s YA. But the cover threw me off.

I will go so far as to predict that this book will become a huge best-seller. It certainly deserves to be.

Mailbox Monday, April 9, 2012

In April Mailbox Monday is being hosted by my friend Cindy at Cindy's Love of Books.

I've already started reading the book I received last week. Written by Paul French, it's called Midnight in Peking. The description of this book (from Mr. French's website) reads:

January, 1937: Peking is a heady mix of privilege and scandal, lavish cocktail bars and opium dens, warlords and corruption, rumours and superstition – and the clock is ticking down on all of it.

In the exclusive Legation Quarter, the foreign residents wait nervously for the axe to fall. Japanese troops have already occupied Manchuria and are poised to advance south. Word has it that Chiang Kai-shek and his shaky government, long since fled to Nanking, are ready to cut a deal with Tokyo and leave Peking to its fate.

Each day brings a racheting up of tension for Chinese and foreigners alike inside the ancient city walls. On one of those walls, not far from the nefarious Badlands, is a massive watchtower – haunted, so the locals believe, by fox spirits that prey upon innocent mortals.

Then one bitterly cold night, the body of an innocent mortal is dumped there. It belongs to Pamela Werner, the daughter of a former British consul to China, and when the details of her death become known, people find it hard to credit that any human could treat another in such a fashion. Even as the Japanese noose on the city tightens, the killing of Pamela transfixes Peking.

Seventy-five years after these events, Paul French finally gives the case the resolution it was denied at the time. Midnight in Peking is the unputdownable true story of a murder that will make you hold your loved ones close, and also a sweepingly evocative account of the end of an era.

Tuesday Teaser: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Tuesday Teasers is hosted by Should Be Reading. The rules are as follows:

Grab your current read and let the book fall open to a random page. Share two sentences from somewhere on that page and the title of the book that you’re getting the teaser from. Please avoid spoilers! Read the official Tuesday Teaser Rules.

My teaser is from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. From page 131:

When the sweat comes back this summer, 1528, people say, as they did last year, that you won't get it if you don't think about it. But how can you not?

Mailbox Monday, April 2, 2012

In April Mailbox Monday is being hosted by my friend Cindy at Cindy's Love of Books.

Last week I received two books. The first is A Winter Kill by Vicki Delany. This book is part of a series called Rapid Reads and A Winter Kill is only 111 pages long. From the back:

Late one bitterly cold winter night, rookie constable Nicole Patterson comes across the body of a young woman lying in a snow-covered field on the outskirts of town. When the victim turns out to be a high school student with a less-than-sterling reputation, suspicion falls on her drunkard father. But Nicole soon discovers that all is not as it appears to be in her quiet little town. Though both underqualified and unauthorized, the young police officer is compelled to throw herself into the murder investigation.

The second book I received is The Watchers by Jon Steele.

The description of this book reads:

Lausanne, Switzerland. In the cathedral tower lives a strange boy with a limp who talks to the bells. In a luxury penthouse lives a high-class prostitute who's in mortal danger. And in a low-rent hotel lives a private investigator who has no idea how he got there. Jay Harper finds himself in Switzerland on the trail of a missing Olympic athlete. A hard drinker, he can barely remember how he got home last night, let alone why he accepted this job. When he meets the stunning but aloof Katherine in a hotel bar, he quickly realises that he's not the only one in town who's for hire. She's a high-class hooker who can't believe her luck. Which is about to change. For the worse. In the meantime, Marc Rochat spends his time in the belfry talking to the statues, his cat and the occasional ghost. His job is to watch over Lausanne at night and to wait for the angel his mother told him he'd one day have to save. When he sees Katherine, he thinks his moment has come. Which indeed it has. But not in a good way...

These are exactly the kind of books I enjoy - I'm really looking forward to reading them!

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