Twentysomething psychic Manfred Bernardo pitches up in small, out-of-the-way backwater Midnight in the hope of finding somewhere quiet to ply his trade. He soon discovers that everyone in town harbours a secret -- and when the body of a young woman is discovered, some of those secrets come to the fore.
We are firmly in Twin Peaks territory here, but Midnight Crossroad isn't so much a whodunnit as a who-cares-dunnit? Midnight is the first in a new franchise for Charlaine Harris, who is, of course, the author of the successful Sookie Stackhouse novels, on which the TV series Trueblood was based. But Midnight Crossroad reads like a first novel from a first-time writer. There is no distinctive voice here to take you through the story and the book suffers for it. Instead, the action is related through some of the town's inhabitants -- namely pawnshop owner Bobo (whose girlfriend Aubrey is found murdered), witch Fiji, who owns a magic store, and newcomer Manfred. The result is that the story lacks focus; there is no single character to identify with. There's nothing wrong with multiple viewpoints in a novel -- providing each voice is distinctive and sufficiently interesting. Sadly, that's not the case here.
Harris has obviously read her Stephen King -- but would that she had learned something about plotting from him: Midnight's plot unfolds like treacle on a cold day and is just about as interesting. Harris has been let down by her editors: this book should have been about eighty pages shorter. What we get are an awful lot of descriptions of food, pointless repetition and some of the most leaden dialogue I have ever read. Here's a sample: "Let us pray for our sister, for she has been taken, and we must find her."
If I wasn't reviewing this book, I would have stopped reading after the first couple of chapters. After the success of the TV show, Harris has taken care this time to draw her pool of characters from a wider cross-section of society. Thus we get a gay couple and an African American couple -- who are then pretty much sidelined for much of the book's action. But none of the characters feel real or especially engaging.
Logic is clearly not Harris' strong point and the book's "then we all went home for tea" ending if hugely anti-climatic, the sort creative writing tutors warn their students to stay clear of. Unless Harris raises her game considerably for the next installment, I really can't see the Midnight books coming even close to doing as well as the Sookie Stackhouse novels. But she might just get another TV deal out of it. Disappointing.
Midnight Crossroad is available from Amazon.co.uk and all good bookshops, priced hb £18.99 (ebook £9.99)