From the Tea-BookShelf of Stephanie Dodaro
Following in my ongoing theme and ever-growing love of historical fiction, I recently acquired this little gem in a coffee shop that has a bookshelf full of books from the nearby used bookstore. I know very little about old China, so I was intrigued not only by the historical time period and location, but also by a crime that “haunted Peking”, and the unusual circumstances that I would soon learn about it. In fact, and a reader would learn this by simply reading the back so no spoilers here, it went more or less unsolved for the last 70 years until Mr. French pieced together the facts during his research to give us, the readers, something of a conclusion.
It is the true story of the murder of a woman named Pamela Werner, the adopted daughter of E.T.C. Werner, in 1937 at a time when China was beginning to change. The Japanese are encroaching on their territory, and the atmosphere of fear and dread is growing. Part of China’s 1.5 million residents included two to three thousand foreigners, many of whom lived in or near what was called the Legation Quarter, a gated area where most of the embassies and consulates were located.
The murder took place, however, just outside of the Legation Quarter, at the base of the Fox Tower, believed to be a place of sorcery and magic, haunted by fox spirits, a superstition so fearful that normally the area is deserted at night. Such spirits are believed to possess the power to beguile men, cunning spirits that seek victims to steal their energy. Of course this particular location for the victim meant that most Chinese were nervous. There were many false confessions with blame on the spirits, but also a lot of false accusations. Many looked to her father as a possible suspect. However, at 72 years old could he really be capable of such a crime? The strange and disconcerting facts of this murder were the fact that the body was horribly mutilated, almost beyond recognition, drained of blood, heart missing, yet her very expensive watch was still on her, eliminating the possibility of a robbery gone wrong. The notes about the autopsy were in fact quite unsettling. It seemed as if a madman or a sadist had committed this crime. The problem was that with no blood at the scene, the next step was to find the scene of the crime which will take them a very long time indeed.
In fact, due to doctored testimony, false leads and misleading testimony, even unverified testimony by the Chinese police, the case would eventually go cold. Pamela’s father would not give up on his daughter, and refused to let the men who did this go free. Despite the brewing war and the Japanese invasion, Werner hired his own detectives and began his own investigation. Fluent in Chinese, and publishing notices for information in Chinese, he got much further than the police ever did, even despite the current situation in China at the time.
This book will take the reader through all the police investigations, witnesses, leads both false and otherwise, all the dirty little secrets of both victim, father and anyone involved, and all the politics involved until the trail goes cold. It then picks up with Werner’s informal investigation, lasting five years and his continued pleas with the police with all his new evidence to try to reopen the case. Finally French will put it all together for us.