Written by Charlaine Harris — Charlaine Harris is known as the writer of the Southern Vampire Mysteries which is the basis of the popular TV series True Blood. And the promotional material that came through with Midnight Crossroad does suggest that there is a supernatural element to the mystery. So, would it be 300 pages or so of sparkly vampires or other such things? As it happens there is a vampire, as well as a witch and a talking cat, but the book is mostly a fun and entertaining mystery.
Midnight, Texas is a tiny place with just a few inhabitants and a single crossroad. It’s the kind of place that’s easy to drive through without ever realising. Just a gas station and convenience store, a couple of other shops including a diner and pawn shop, a tiny church and a few houses. The story limits itself to the residents of Midnight and a couple of outsiders. These include Fiji, proprietor of a new age shop who has a cat called Mr Snuggly (I kid you not), and an unrequited crush on her neighbour Bobo. Bobo runs Midnight Pawn and is trying to get over his girlfriend walking out on him. Manfred is in his early 20s and the newest to arrive in Midnight. He is a phone and internet psychic and may actually possess a real gift. He has taken a fancy to Creek Lovell whose father owns the local Gas and Go and is overprotective to the point of paranoia.
The mystery begins when two strangers threaten Bobo in his shop. It’s pretty clear that without the intervention of his friends he was in for a beating. The pair seem convinced that Bobo has something of theirs, something worth killing for. Then, on a town picnic to the local creek, Fiji discovers the corpse of Bobo’s ex-girlfriend. She has been murdered and it transpires that almost everything she told Bobo about herself was a lie. She had links to a far-right organisation and had perhaps targeted Bobo because again she believed he had something her group wanted. Despite her duplicity, and also because Bobo finds a hidden surveillance camera in his shop, the town decides they need to find out who killed her.
I struggled to maintain interest in the first 50 or so pages. They are very exposition heavy, because either that’s the author’s style or she was conscious of starting a new series, and I nearly gave up. Some of the supernatural elements seem too convenient, particularly when used to remove obstacles in a character’s path, as when the witch freezes her kidnappers with a spell to effect her escape.
Those were my only concerns though. Once the story gets going it fizzes along and Charlaine populates her book with likeable, well defined characters that I enjoyed spending time with. The book occupies an unusual position with both cosy and hardboiled elements alongside the supernatural. Happily this didn’t feel to me like a cynical attempt to cover all audience bases, but more a natural reflection of the author’s own interests. Add a dash of humour and romance to the mix and I can see why she has sold more than three million books so far. Midnight Crossroad feels like the beginning of another very successful series.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars