Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
I’ll be honest: I haven’t much enjoyed Ms. Harris’ urban fantasy novels, especially as they tended to centre around one Sookie Stackhouse and her excruciating vampire sidekicks. On the other hand, I have enjoyed Harris’ mysteries, and the Midnight trilogy are a completely new series, presumably unconnected to Sookie. So, I thought I’d give the first one a try and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to go on to the rest. To my great surprise, I actually enjoyed it.
Midnight is a very small town in Texas. Very, very small. The titular crossroad is basically all there is to it, and the population is less than a dozen. At the crossroads is a gas station and a pawnshop. The pawnshop is owned by one Bobo Winthrop, a good-lookin’ SOB who also owns and rents out some of the nearby property. Across the street from the pawnshop is a house belonging to Fiji Cavanaugh, a witch who teaches the craft to women from out of town and sells crystals to tourists (but knows some real magic too). Behind Fiji’s place is a pet cemetary (spelled right) run by the Reverend Emilio Sheehan (aka The Rev), who also has a small church and does weddings, etc on demand (occasionally he preaches in the local diner, Home Cookin, run by Madonna Reed who does nothing extraordinary in this volume except cook well. Her man, Teacher, is the town handyman). Joe Strong and Chuy Villegas are a nice gay couple who run an Antique gallery and Nail Salon. The Gas ‘N’ Go is run by Shawn Lovell, whose daughter Creek sometimes waits tables at Home Cookin, and whose son, Connor, goes to school outside town. Two people rent apartments under the pawnshop from Bobo: Lem, who works the night shift at the Pawnshop, and his lover Olivia, who frequently goes out of town and knows a lot about applied violence. Olivia is gorgeous but Lem is pale as it is possible to be and is never, never seen in the daylight.
New guy in town Manfred Bernardo is renting a house next to the pawnshop from Bobo. Manfred is a psychic, and a real one, but since his powers aren’t reliable he runs a lot of scammy websites and basically fills the house with computers. Bobo, he learns, pretty much has it all together, but he has two things troubling him: number one, his ex-girlfriend, Aubrey, disappeared some time ago; just vanished one day and never came back, not even to collect her belongings, and number two, right-wing hate groups across the south believe that he inherited a vast collection of weapons that his race-war crazed grandfather had put together before he was arrested and died in prison. Bobo insists he hasn’t got the weapons, but every now and then some group of bigots will track him down and threaten him — or worse.
Still, things seem to be copacetic in town, until Fiji convinces everyone to join in for a community-wide picnic, and the picnic site turns out to be home to a corpse. Aubrey’s, naturally. It looks like she’s been shot, and nearby is a pistol that is supposed to be in the pawn shop.
Sherriff Arthur Smith is kinda sympathetic to the Midnighters, but Bobo is the prime suspect and to tell the truth, everybody in Midnight seems a little hinky. Can the townsfolk, whatever else they might be guilty of, clear their names? Or is one of them guilty after all?
The fantasy aspect of the story is kinda quiet. Manfred has one psychic vision, and Fiji casts a couple of spells, but neither has a big affect on the story (though the one spell does help Fiji escape from kidnappers). Fiji’s cat can talk, there are hints that the Rev is some kind of werecreature, and there is a subtle hint that Joe and Chuy are a bit more than they appear to be. Lem is a vampire, of course, but he seems to be the only one around and is slightly atypical, which leaves the question of a connection to Sookie’s world kind of up in the air.
But that is the only connection unmade. Early in the book, when Manfred visits his various websites, he admires a photoshopped picture of himself shooting lightning bolts from his hands. The text tells us, “Every time he admired the Photoshopped bolts, he thought of his lightning-struck friend, Harper.” That would be Harper Connelly, whose psychic powers anchored a series of mystery novels (see the Harper Connelly tag, below, for my thoughts on that series). Bobo Winthrop turns out to be originally from Shakespeare, Arkensas, home to Lily Bard. In fact, the bit with his grandfather is from one of the Bard novels. About two-thirds of the way through the book I stuck in a note saying, “I wonder about Arthur Smith” and sure enough, right before the end, Arthur gets into a discussion of hobbies with Manfred and mentions that he used to be part of a club “that met once a month to talk about famous cases of the past”. That club was called “Real Murders”, and it was the driving force for the first couple of Aurora Teagarden mysteries (see the Aurora Teagarden tag). That pretty much makes this a kind of Harris-verse forming up. I frankly hope that Sookie doesn’t latch on to it because not only would that suck all the joy out of this, but it would also mean that Sookie and the Vampires are in the background of all those other mysteries, which would really suck (pun was not planned, but if it amuses you I’ll take credit for it).
This isn’t great writing, or anything; there’s a lot of telling rather than showing (especially when it comes to people’s emotions), for example, but I’m not a hard-liner when it comes to that sort of thing. What there is here is a fairly fun story with some likeable characters and an interesting mystery. Which I’ll take over fine writing any day of the week (but not every day of the week). Recommended, but we’ll see if the second and third books hold up.