MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD by Charlaine Harris

Midnight-Crossroad-hires MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD

Charlaine Harris (charlaineharris.com)

Gollancz (www.gollancz.co.uk)

£18.99

You might pass through the town of Midnight without noticing it, if it weren’t for the stoplight at the intersection of Witch Light Road and the Davy highway. Most of the town residents are very proud of the stoplight, because they know that without it the town would dry up and blow away.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a wide spot in the road grown up around a crossroads that consists of little more than a gas station, a diner and, in the town’s most imposing structure, Midnight Pawn. Online psychic Manfred Bernardo has chosen Midnight as the perfect place to get away from the world and concentrate on his work. Here he finds a small, close-knit community whose worlds will be turned upside down with the discovery of a body in the outskirts of town. Everyone in Midnight has secrets, and this development has the potential to reveal those secrets to the rest of the community.

I’m going to come straight out and admit that I have never read Charlaine Harris before. I did watch the first couple of episodes of HBO’s True Blood, and enjoyed them, before deciding that HBO’s need to turn everything into a soft-porn version of the original material (Game of Breasts, anyone?) wasn’t worth the effort. Which is to say that Midnight Crossroad is my first real experience with this immensely-talented author. Hailed as the start of a new series, the book does have some crossover with Harris’ earlier Lily Bard series, and is set in the same – or at least a very similar – world to the Sookie Stackhouse novels.

The small town of Midnight is populated by an odd (in every sense of the word) assortment from characters. From sometimes-psychic/sometimes-conman Manfred, who is new to town, to his landlord Bobo Winthrop, the owner of Midnight Pawn and a man with an unsavoury past that continues to haunt him in the form of white supremacists searching for a fabled cache of weapons hidden by his grandfather. Throw in a witch (the soft-hearted Fiji), a vampire (Lemuel) and the gay couple who run the town’s nail bar and antiques emporium (now, there’s a combination!), and it’s immediately apparent that this is a town unlike any other you’re likely to have visited.

Harris concentrates, for the most part, on the characters. The murder – and the identity of the victim – is almost incidental, a gentle nudge for each of the town’s residents that allows us to watch how they interact, and the suspicions that are raised, when they come under pressure. The fact that these are beautifully-drawn, vital characters makes this the perfect approach to introducing us to Midnight: these are people with secrets, some of which we learn during the course of the story, others not so much, and their personalities and relationships are what draw us back to the book and keep us reading to the end.

The town itself plays a central role in the story, and becomes a palpable presence as the novel progresses. There is a sense here that the crossroads came first (probably before there were even proper roads), followed by Lemuel and the pawnshop. There is something ancient about the town, a sense that it is biding its time, and we see glimpses of this in some of the more interesting items that seem to have been languishing in Midnight Pawn since long before Bobo took control of the business. The pawnshop is one of the gathering places for the town’s residents, and plays host to an entirely different breed of customer after hours.

While a complete story, a sort of mystery with a touch of the supernatural, Midnight Crossroad gives us the briefest of glimpses into the lives of these people, and this small town. There is so much more to explore and I, for one, am looking forward to our next visit to the town. While this story centres mainly on Bobo, Fiji and Manfred, the peripheral characters are often the most interesting, and tend to be scene-stealers. Lemuel the vampire is mysterious enough, and more than a little creepy, while Olivia is, perhaps, the most secretive member of the community, a woman who isn’t afraid to kill, and is more than capable of doing so with her bare hands. For me, the most intriguing character is the reverend, a quiet man who tends to his small church and the adjoining pet cemetery, but who drops hints during the novel’s climactic scene that there is more to him, a much longer history than even Lemuel’s.

An excellent start to what looks to be an intriguing and very entertaining series, Midnight Crossroad is a small-town American crime novel with a light brush of the supernatural. In a wonderful, captivating voice, Charlaine Harris introduces us to the town and its residents, and sets the scene for what is to follow. Deeply strange, but with enough outside influence to ground the story in reality, Midnight Crossroad feels, on the surface, like a light, jaunty read, but it grips like a thriller and unsettles like the finest horror novel. Well worth the read in its own right, Midnight Crossroad also brings with it the promise of much more to come. I’m sold.

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