I read Mae Clair’s reviews every week on her blog I’ve found lots of books I love from her recommendations. So I need to thank her for alerting me to The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell.

I read more straight mysteries than suspense, but every once in a while, I like to change things up–both in my reading and my writing. That’s why I wrote Posed In Death. The Midnight Man hooked me because of the wonderful characters in the story. Sarah is a detective who took a year’s leave of absence because her husband, another detective, died with plastic over his face while looking at child porn, not to commit suicide but some kind of sexual game. She never realized his obsession and couldn’t face her fellow officers, ashamed of what they must think about her. The author was clever! She introduced us to Sarah, who was arguing with her husband. I didn’t realize that her husband was a ghost whom she talked to until much later in the book. And I thought the trick the author played on me was wonderful! And she had a couple more up her sleeve.

There were SO many characters I fell in love with. I’ll buy the next book just because I liked Sarah so much. She’s caring and wonderful. Life has given her more hard knocks than any person deserves, but she keeps struggling to overcome them. Then there’s her friend and her son, Elliott. Elliott “sees” things no one would ever want to see, and he’s only seven, so he doesn’t always understand the images that play in his mind. They frighten him. Then there’s Elsie, who went to school with Sarah. I really felt for her and her son. Elsie is so overweight she can hardly get out of bed, and her son dedicates himself to caring for her. But Elsie has secrets, and once the reader learns them, they understand why Elsie is the way she is.

Every character is well-drawn. They sucked me into the story. And the Midnight Man with his sick Halloween game is enough to keep the reader turning pages. My only problem with the book was the reveal of the killer at the end. It worked but barely. It almost felt, to me, as though the writer intended one thing when she started the book and waffled at the end. The killer killed the first girl he “invited” to the old manor house. The second girl escaped. And he used the third girl to lure Sarah to her old childhood home. I won’t say more, or I’ll spoil too much, but the ending felt a bit contrived, and I felt a bit deceived, but I’ll still buy the next book. I just plain liked the people I met in the pages too much.

Still Life in Death

I read a lot of mysteries. I’ve narrowed down a small list of favorite authors who I know I’ll enjoy, but I’ve reached the point that I’ve read most of their backlog and now I have to wait until a new book by them comes out. Which means, I’m searching for new authors to add to my auto buys. And I’ve found some good ones. I just took a chance on P.B. Ryan’s STILL LIFE WITH MURDER, and it blew me away.

I like historical fiction. This book takes place in post Civil War Boston, 1868. The heroine is a young Irish girl who had an ugly start in life but didn’t give up and has finally worked her way into a job as a governess for a wealthy family. The matron who hires her is eccentric and suspects that Nell is no innocent and doesn’t care. She’s bound to a wheelchair and sends Nell to find information to prove that her wayward son, Will, didn’t partake of too much opium and kill a man in an alley. While Will’s mother is working to free him, his father is doing everything possible to make sure he hangs, eliminating the wealthy family of the “William Problem.”

The set-up, obviously, assures the story will have plenty of tension. If Will’s father learns that Nell is visiting opium dens and sharing information with a smart, huge Irish detective, he’ll fire her, and she’ll have no job and no respect–she could easily be worse off than before she got the job. Even if she does everything she can, the son–Will–is determined to hang and refuses to do anything to save himself.

One of the things I loved about the story is one of the things that earned it low marks with some readers. The author makes addiction all too real and depression even more realistic. William Hewitt was a surgeon when the war started. He and his brother, Robbie, joined the Union Army because of their excellent horse skills. When Robbie is wounded and can’t be moved, Will has to saw off his arm and stay with him until they’re both captured. They’re sent to Andersonville POV camp, and their lives become hell. Will refuses to give up, though, and keeps Robbie’s wounds clean–no infection, no gangrene. He digs a dip in the frozen ground to keep them from freezing when they’re forced to sleep outdoors because of overcrowding. But when he returns home, alone, the pain from the bullet wound in his leg and his memories make opium appealing.

The author didn’t pull any punches about the war and the after-effects it had on men. She didn’t glamorize poverty either, and I appreciated that. She showed the rich class with its good and its bad. Her characters were complex and well-drawn. I love reading really well-written books. They make me think about what makes them stand out, for me, above other well done books. Nell’s character is wonderful. She’s fierce, loyal, and smart with a big heart. But Will Hewitt with his easy charm, brilliant mind, and weariness of life was fascinating. So many contradictions. And for me, a character that would be hard to write. I’m so glad I read this book. It will make me think about the characters and story for a long time, but more, it will make me examine how the author accomplished what she did and how she threw two very different characters together and let them respect and challenge each other.

A Stephen King quote says that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. If a person works, there’s not always time to do both, but most writers are or were people who love books. And reading other authors can inspire us to try harder, to write better, while always staying true to ourselves. Happy Writing!