Book review: Midnight, Texas trilogy

This is a review of the Midnight, Texas trilogy of books by Charlaine Harris. My review does not include significant spoilers.

Book 1: Midnight Crossroad

The first book, Midnight Crossroad, opens with a detailed description of the tiny town of Midnight, centered on the crossroads of Davy Highway and the delightfully named Witch Light Road. While reading the lengthy opening description of Midnight and the placement of its very few buildings, I created a clumsy diagram in pencil. Later, I recreated that diagram in Photoshop, and now I'm sharing it with you. (You can click on it to make it bigger.)


(And by the way, there's a cute map of Midnight as the frontispiece in the second and third books in the series, Day Shift and Night Shift. I couldn't find the map online anywhere, but I did use it to correct a couple of small mistakes I had made in my own attempt.)

As the story opens, Midnight has just acquired a new resident: professional psychic Manfred Bernardo, a character initially introduced in the second book of Charlaine Harris' mildly supernatural four-volume Harper Connelly series. Manfred has moved into the rental house next to Midnight Pawn, a shop run by a really nice guy named Bobo Winthrop, who also lives in an apartment above the store. Bobo's friends Lemuel, a vampire, and Olivia, who is really something but not a vampire, inhabit the basement apartments below. A kind, witchy woman named Fiji Cavanaugh lives across the street, next to the mysterious Reverend's wedding chapel and pet cemetery. Further down Witch Light Road are several other homes and businesses, including Joe and Chuy's Antique Gallery and Nail Salon, and the Home Cookin restaurant, where the "Midnighters" meet somewhat regularly at one big table for meals.

While there are attacks by a white supremacist group and a murder mystery that is solved at the end of the book, Midnight Crossroad is very much a character piece. It feels a bit like it's about some real people living in an extremely tiny town who just happen to have a touch of the supernatural about them. The reveals happen much more slowly than in the new television series. In fact, what was really going on with Fiji's cat Mr. Snuggly didn't happen for most of the first book and when something finally occurred, I must have laughed for ten minutes.

Manfred isn't the only crossover character. It's been too long since I read Charlaine Harris' Shakespeare series that takes place in Arkansas, but Bobo Winthrop was indeed a character in two of them: Shakespeare's Trollop and Shakespeare's Champion.

Book 2: Day Shift

There's a charm to this series that is more evident in Day Shift. It's as if Midnight Crossroad was setting the stage, and in Day Shift, the play has begun in earnest.

The old, abandoned hotel at the crossroad of Midnight, Texas is renovated and reopened by a mysterious organization with ulterior motives that are not quite clear. And while Manfred is doing in-person psychic readings in a fancy hotel in Dallas, one of his clients dies unexpectedly, and foul play is suspected. While in Dallas, Manfred also runs into Olivia, who seems to have some sort of secret life going on, including a possible connection to a confusingly coincidental murder-suicide in the same hotel.

I liked this book even more than the first. I suspect that is because of Olivia, who is now my favorite character. We got a good portion of her backstory and some limited information about what she does for a living, and of course, those two things are related. It's interesting that Olivia, while human, seems to have the cold personality of a vampire, and yet she spends much of this book trying to help Manfred, who is unjustly accused of murder. We also learn a lot more about Joe and Chuy, the gay couple who run the antique store and nail salon, who have supernatural secrets of their own that were barely hinted at in the first book.

I honestly couldn't tell at first if the Midnight, Texas trilogy was taking place in the same 'verse as the Sookie Stackhouse books, but in the second book, we find out that it is when two prominent Sookie-verse characters arrive in Midnight: Barry Bellboy the telepath, who was in many Sookie books and the True Blood television series, and John Quinn, who was prominently featured in Sookie book six, Definitely Dead. Quinn stops by Midnight and leaves a little boy named Diederik with the Reverend for reasons not yet known, and the residents of Midnight, led by Fiji the witch, rally to help young Diederik with a very unusual problem.

Book 3: Night Shift

The third book starts literally with a bang when someone commits suicide right in the middle of the crossroad. As the book progresses, there are more suicides, and the reason it is happening is gradually revealed.

While each of the Midnight, Texas books can be read on their own, this final book made it clear that it's a trilogy, and Night Shift is the conclusion. Every story thread introduced in the three books: Fiji's witchy talents and her unrequited love for Bobo, Olivia's complicated past and present, the strange books Lemuel was searching for and translating in Day Shift, what is up with Teacher and Madonna at Home Cookin, Manfred's genetic heritage, the reasons why supes are drawn to Midnight – all comes together in a satisfying way in the second half of Night Shift.

Fiji in particular is a sweet but complicated character and has to make some difficult choices in this final book. At one point, there's a scene where several of the characters are comparing the people in Midnight to characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it was obvious that Fiji was Willow. One of my favorite bits in Night Shift is when Fiji and Mr. Snuggly have a long discussion about witchcraft and what exactly a witch's familiar does.

By the time I got to the end of Night Shift, I was hoping Charlaine Harris would reconsider and continue the series. But I think she is limiting herself to trilogies now after what happened with fan backlash to the last outing of the thirteen volume Sookie Stackhouse series. Honestly, I can't blame her. Fans can be scary.

The reason I picked up this trilogy was because it was turned into an NBC television series whose first season recently aired (August and September, 2017). Whether or not Midnight, Texas will get a second season is yet to be determined.

But as it turned out, I liked the book series more than the television series. The fact that the books are so much fun gives me hope that the television series might turn out better than I expected, too. That is, if it gets a second season.
---
Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

No comments: