Review: The Dead of Midnight by Catherine Hunter

This is the sixth book I’m counting towards the challenge which requires me to read 13 Canadian books by 1 July 2011. It is yet another great book that I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across if it weren’t for participating in a challenge.

In a small town in Winnipeg, Manitoba a book club meats each week at a local restaurant to discuss a mystery novel (and eat dessert). They start discussing a new series of novels in which a murder always occurs at midnight but soon book club members start experiencing events that eerily reflect the plots of the novels. At the same time one of the club members, Sarah Petursson, begins to uncover the mysteries of her own past, including the death of her mother when she was only six years old.

I read this book in a couple of sittings and was hooked from the outset. Although the basic premise, real-life events mirroring those in books, has been done before there were more than enough interesting twists here that I didn’t get any sense of ‘been there, read that’. Undoubtedly this was helped along by the strong focus on Sarah’s exploration of her past. At first she is reluctant to dig into her murky memories of her early childhood but when she came into possession of some journals of her mother’s she became drawn to finding out about her mother’s life, almost all of which was spent on a tiny private island with only her father and sister for company. The inclusion of extracts from these journals was nicely handled and helped build the intrigue. Meanwhile the investigation of the current crop of crimes does not go terribly smoothly, mostly due to the lazy pig-headedness of one of the detectives assigned to the case, and it’s no wonder those book club members who remain alive grow more than a little frightened.

There’s a plethora of characters in the book, possibly a few too many to get into real depth, but even those who appear only briefly are well-drawn. Thankfully Sarah Petersson avoids almost all of the traps of being a female in danger in a mystery and her self-discovery and the way it impacts her character is surprisingly engaging. Her flighty (and flirty) cousin Morgan turns out to be made of tougher stuff than I imagined at the outset and the many possible culprits provide red herrings and entertainment in equal measure. The only real downfall was with the depiction of the police who seemed either to be lazy or a little too willing to break rules inconvenient to plot advancement but as they didn’t feature heavily in the story it wasn’t a terribly big issue.

Perhaps I was particularly drawn into this novel because I too belong to a crime fiction book club (though ours is not nearly as organised as this one in which members took it in turns to write presentations on the themes raised by the books they read) (and none of our members have been horribly murdered) but whatever the reason it certainly hooked me in from the outset. I found the book genuinely suspenseful and its evocative sense of location and the merest hint of something paranormal was reminiscent of some of Daphne du Maurier’s stories. I think this one would have appeal beyond die-hard mystery fans.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5
Publisher St Martin’s Minotaur [2001]
ISBN 03123083888
Length 360 pages
Format hardcover
Source borrowed from the library

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4 Responses to Review: The Dead of Midnight by Catherine Hunter

  1. Em says:

    Appealing review. I’ll keep it in mind for the next time I want to read a murder mystery.


  2. Bernadette – Thanks for this excellent review. This really does sound like a terrific read, and I always admire it when an author does a good job with the “life imitates art” sort of plot. That’s not easy to do well, but it seems that Hunter has. And you are so right about how easy it is for the “female in danger” scenario to completely ruin a book. I’m glad that didn’t happen for you with this one.


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