Thursday, 9 April 2015

'Midnight Crossroad' (Midnight Texas #1) by Charlaine Harris - SPOILER FREE REVIEW

First off I need to say thank you to Orion Publishing Group for accepting my request to read this book on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.

'Manfred Bernardo realizes he's moved to the right place. In fact, it's just like he belongs here.'

I haven't yet read Charlaine's Harper Connelly series, but I knew that Manfred Bernardo was one of the characters from those books that people really love, so I was excited about reading this book despite the fact that I didn't already know the character. And for the first five percent or so (thinking that I read this on my Kindle) it was rather interesting - Manfred is the new guy in Midnight, an internet psychic who actually has powers, so he's already pretty interesting. We then get introduced to all of the characters really quickly, and it's pretty obvious that they all have their own secret pasts that we will discover throughout. I was looking forward to a good old mystery book, with plenty of red herrings and misinformation given throughout, and I had my hopes pretty high for this one. However, it was pretty awful.
In fact, if I could give an award to the most boring book I've read in the last couple of years, 'Midnight Crossroad' would experience a landslide victory. 
How do you write a review for a book in which nothing much really happens? Well I'm about to find out, because in a book that has over three hundred pages, only three things (yep, one thing every one hundred pages) of consequence actually happened. It sounds like an under-exaggeration, doesn't it? You're thinking 'Wow, there is no way this can be true!'. Well it is. 
If you're thinking of reading this book, I would seriously recommend just skipping the first quarter, because it's utterly pointless. Charlaine has decided to use exposition to the maximum, so for the first big chunk of the novel is just an endless monologue of 'this shop is to the west of this shop, and this shop is slightly to the south-east of this shop, and this shop is...'. I'm attempting to read a book, not completely familiarise myself with the location that it's set in. I'm not going to be drawing a map of Midnight, so I really don't need to know what is east of anything. I do not enjoy skipping sections of novels, because I think if the novel has been published then everything in it must be included for a reason, but I was nearly tearing my hair out by this point. The locations then get reiterated consistently throughout the novel, every time the characters are travelling to another business in Midnight, so much of this book could have just been compressed down into a more concise method of storytelling.
Furthermore, most of the conversations between the characters are yawnfests. Off of the top of my head, there's a conversation between Bobo and Fiji, the owner of the pawn shop and the local witch, when they're walking towards a picnic, which felt as though it went on for hours - we got a little bit of back story on both of their characters, but it wasn't really anything that we needed to know, so it definitely felt as though Charlaine was just filling the book up willy nilly. Similarly, there's a scene where Bobo and Manfred go to dinner at Joe and Chuy, the local gay couples house, and while we get an intimate guided tour of their house, the fact that we never go back to that location makes it completely redundant. 
Don't get me wrong, the main plot line is quite interesting. Bobo's girlfriend, Aubrey, disappeared a few months back, at the start of summer, and her body is found towards the start of the novel (well, just over a quarter of the way in, which is why you should skip the first quarter) and that's when the interesting stuff starts... Well, at least some interesting stuff. Bobo's grandfather was a racist homophobe, and the extremists Men of Liberty (MOL - think of the KKK) are desperate to get in contact with Bobo, because they're certain that he has his grandfather's legendary stash of guns hidden somewhere in Midnight. Tension occurs - fights happening all over the place, and a really well written scene when the MOL crash Aubrey's funeral, infuriating all of her mourners, but other than that nothing really goes on with them, either. This whole book just seems to be a collection of loose ends chucked together, with a bestselling authors name on the cover to make people pick it up. 
But really, the worst thing of all about this book is the fact that Aubrey's murderer isn't even considerable until the reveal at the end of the novel. There are no clues spread throughout, no little niggles of doubt, until the reveal just slaps you right in the face with the information. This means it's a massive anti-climax, because whereas there are a few characters who could have been in the frame, and definitely could have had motive, the reality is that there's a shock factor here. If I had been more emotionally invested in this book, I would have felt disappointed and betrayed by the easy escape clause that Charlaine used, but thankfully I really didn't care enough to muster up a response to it.
In all honesty, all of the interesting aspects of this book are underplayed, understated and under appreciated. Fiji's familiar, the talking cat, never gets explained - we just accept the fact that about halfway through the book, the cat starts talking, with no reason. Lemuel, Bobo's tenant, an energy sucking vampire who can invigorate himself just by holding the arm of a person - also, not really explained. It's touched upon, just about, but there's nothing here that really makes me think 'hm, that explains that, that's an interesting idea!'. 
If you like Charlaine Harris, you'll probably like this book, because I've read a lot of five star, super positive reviews. I've tried to look on the optimistic side, and I've tried to look a little deeper and to find something worth liking, but it's just not there for me. I know that the whole point of the rambling exposition is meant to demonstrate the fact that in a small town, everyone knows everyone else's business, down to what they're eating on which evening, but I really didn't care enough to want all of that information. I have no idea why, but this book is the first one in a trilogy - there is literally no possible way that this series could get worse, so fingers crossed that the next installment will get to the point a little bit quicker.

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