Over six years have elapsed since the release of Paul French’s debut as a writer of what publishers these days label ‘narrative non-fiction’ – a clumsy term inconsistent with the fluid, novelistic grace to which the genre characteristically aspires. That book, Midnight in Peking, attracted enthusiastic reviews and became an international bestseller. With an emphasis on evoking the personalities and the often rackety lives of its hitherto obscure cast, the book provides a gripping reconstruction of events surrounding the brutal murder of a young British woman living in Peking’s louche expat community in the 1930s.
Prompted by an industry that pays lip service to originality while yearning to mould writers into predictable brands, most authors blessed with comparable critical and commercial success would have succumbed to the inevitable pressure to produce a self-plagiarising follow-up. I’m sure French could easily have given another real-life