John French has written a page-turner, a true crime story of insidious ex-patriot behavior and the storms of change brought to China by the invaders from Imperial Japan. On a cold December night in 1937, Pamela Werner is murdered and her mutilated body left in a derelict no-man’s land just outside the foreign legation area. The deserted ditch where the body was discovered was in the shadow of the ancient watch tower said to be haunted by fox spirits which Chinese avoided. This was also steps away from a seedy zone of nightspots, brothels and opium dens, an odd locale for an educated debutante to be found. French investigates the crime following in the steps of the Scotland Yard detectives assigned from the British port zone in Tientsin to find the murder of the daughter of a not well-liked former British consular agent and scholar.
Using the extensive reports paid for by the victim’s father which were ignored but carefully filed in Foreign Ministry archives in London after the British evacuation of China, French explains the forensics of the investigation and motivations of a crew of ex-pat opportunists.
In addition to compelling crime reporting, the author writes accurate scenes of street life, the various diplomatic figureheads and social personalities of the day against a background of fear that engulfed China as it fell to the invaders and the war in the Pacific began.
The Daily Mail review offers the right notes of sensationalism.
The Washington Post book review is more discreet.