Review – Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris


The latest novel by best-selling fantasy author Charlaine Harris, Midnight Crossroad marks the beginning of a whole new series, as well as heralding a stylistic departure from her earlier work.

Set in the small and sleepy-seeming Texan town of Midnight, the novel follows its fourteen inhabitants (fifteen if you count the cat), all social misfits who have travelled to this isolated area seeking privacy and refuge from the judgement of the wider world. We don’t always know their reasons for being there: everyone in Midnight has secrets, and there’s a sort of unspoken agreement between the residents not to ask each other any probing questions. That is, of course, until a dead body is discovered in their midst.

In contrast to the more romantic Southern Vampire Mysteries series on which Charlaine Harris made her name, Midnight Crossroad takes the form of a murder mystery, and is perhaps her most ambitious novel so far in terms of voice and style. Written in third person, its multi-protagonist set-up sees the story focalised through the eyes of a range of different characters, rather than being told from one individual’s perspective. Sadly, this doesn’t always quite work out, with some characters proving much more compelling than others. Unsurprisingly, the most thoroughly convincing of them is Fiji Cavanaugh, a single, twenty-something woman whose claims to possess superhuman powers are met with scepticism by those around her, and who also happens to harbour secret feelings for her handsome older neighbour. If this all sounds rather familiar (see also, Sookie Stackhouse), at least in her, Charlaine Harris is playing to her strengths: elsewhere, the characters are much more thinly drawn. In some cases, this works well enough, particularly with those who are deliberately mysterious and underwritten, such as the vampire Lemuel or the strangely silent Reverend Emilio Sheehan. Neither Bobo Winthrop nor Manfred Bernardo, however – both point-of-view characters at different stages in the story – are ever really developed well enough to seem “real”. Fans of Harris’s earlier work may IMG_20140429_094343be familiar with Bobo and Manfred from her Harper Connelly and Shakespeare series. While the decision to explore these characters further is an interesting one, and will doubtless be eagerly anticipated by many, it proves to be something of a wasted opportunity, with very little additional information provided about either.

Another way in which this book breaks ground for Charlaine Harris is in its open discussion of white supremacist and Christian fundamentalist movements in the Southern United States. The novel’s main “villains” are an organisation called the “Men of Liberty”, on the hunt for a secret horde of weapons to further their malicious campaign. Meanwhile, our “heroes” in Midnight are in every way a diverse bunch, including black and Hispanic people, a gay couple and a pagan witch, among others. Frustratingly however, the potentially very real threat that the MoL initially pose ultimately fizzles out into nothing. Though their words and public demonstrations early in the novel inspire genuine fear and anger, the resolution of their conflict with the Midnighters comes just a little too easily to be really satisfying.

Openly tackling these big themes head-on also calls into question the purpose and relevance of the novel’s supernatural elements. Where in the Sookie Stackhouse series, anti-vampire tension served as a clever analogy for Southern race relations and homophobic prejudice, in Midnight Crossroads, Fiji’s magic, Lemuel’s “leeching” and Manfred’s psychic ability become largely incidental to the plot, providing little more than a bit of Harris’s characteristic humour and quick solutions whenever the characters find themselves in trouble.

Of course, it’s possible and even probable that more will be made of these powers in later Midnight volumes, but perhaps the biggest problem with this novel in general is that, with its meandering exposition and limited character development, it feels just a little too much like a prelude to something bigger. Though Midnight itself is a great, atmospheric setting and its inhabitants have plenty of potential, far too much time is spent establishing minor details of the town, slowing the pace of the story and making its inciting incident an awful long time coming. Once things do get moving, the identity of the killer becomes clear quite quickly, denying readers the chance to enjoy playing the detective by considering a range of possible culprits.

Rather than simply telling a strong, stand-alone story, Harris seems to be relying on the notion that, once they’ve got started, her readers will be willing to see this series through to its conclusion. With her hugely devoted fanbase, this is probably a safe enough assumption: those already anticipating its release will likely enjoy Midnight Crossroad well enough. On the other hand, those less familiar with Charlaine Harris’s other work are much more likely to be disappointed.

Copyright © 2014 MCM BUZZ – Movies, TV, Comics, Gaming, Anime, Cosplay News & Reviews