I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Midnight Crossing – see my review here. Would the second book be as strong?
It’s a quiet little town, perched at the junction between Davy Road and Witch Light Road and it’s easy to miss. With its boarded up windows, single traffic light and sleepy air, there’s nothing special about Midnight… which is exactly how the residents like it. So when the townspeople hear that a new owner plans to renovate the run-down, abandoned old hostel in town, it’s not met with pleasure. Who would want to come to Midnight, with its handful of shops, the Home Cookin diner, and quiet residents and why? But there are bigger problems in the air. When Manfred Bernado, the newest resident in town, is swept up in a deadly investigation, suddenly the hotel and its guests are the least of the town’s concern. The police, lawyers and journalists are all headed to Midnight, and it’s the worst possible moment…
Harris has set up an enjoyable juxtaposition in this entertaining read, as this small settlement contains so few people that Manfred is able to observe their lives and characters fairly easily. So we have scenes set at the diner and meetings when concerned residents discuss the hotel renovations and we get to see some of their daily routines – which is when the cosiness fades… All Midnight’s residents are concealing some sort of secret that marks them apart. And in many cases, that secret would land them either behind bars, or in some secret Government facility where white-coated scientists would eagerly be experimenting on them. It also makes a number of them highly dangerous. So the mundane is rubbing shoulders with oddness in a disturbing mix that Harris fans recognise only too clearly and the HBO True Blood series spectacularly failed to achieve. They only managed to convey the danger and oddness, which wrecked the dynamic of Harris’s storytelling.
Though as one of his client readings turns into a tragedy, Manfred’s interest in his neighbours is lessened as his involvement comes under police scrutiny. Other Midnight residents pitch in to help. Not just out of neighbourly concern – no one in Midnight wants the police knocking on doors, or enquiring too closely into their movements. At all.
What I really love about Harris’s version of American Gothic are the slices of humour, where a tight-wound situation tips into farce. A growing boy needs new clothes and everyone notices that he is literally bulging out of his apparel, except his carer, the Reverend, who wears exactly the same clothing day in and day out. So it falls upon the kindly witch to provide him with new outfits and very welcome snacks. As well as providing necessary lighter moments, it is these small details that make me bond with the characters and have me holding my breath when the situation suddenly lurches into one of uncertainty and danger. I’m only too well aware that Harris is capable of killing off one of Midnight’s main residents, should the plot require it.
Any niggles? Well, I did feel the denouement to Manfred’s problem lacked the satisfying smoothness I am accustomed to experiencing with Harris – the solution seemed slightly tacked on. But it that isn’t the dealbreaker you might imagine. Midnight has the same hold over me that Bon Temps exerted and I will happily tolerate the occasional unevenness in the plotting to experience Harris’s particular mix of charm and humour, death and alienation.