A Rose At Midnight
A Rose at Midnight is the guiltiest pleasure I’ve had from a book in some time. It’s melodramatic, fairly cheesy, and almost completely over-the-top. For readers with a taste for this kind of thing, it’s sort of fun for the same reasons. The book’s not really good in the conventional sense, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t somewhat entertaining.
When Harlequin Intrigue’s Gothic promotion was announced, I figured these stories at least would be free from all the usual series romance gimmicks. Silly me. I forgot just how much the folks at Harlequin love their gimmicks. And so, here is a gothic-themed secret child story. Now wait, don’t run away just yet. Fortunately, the pluses of the gothic plot outweigh the minuses of the secret child plot, and I found the device far more palatable than I usually do. It also helps that the book is set in Quebec City and all the characters are French-Canadian. This gave the story a unique flair and made it a bit different than most secret child books. I loved the distinct vibe the setting offered.
Ten years ago Christiane Lawrence met a handsome young music student named Daniel Moreau. They fell in love, but then he abruptly abandoned her, leaving her pregnant with their daughter Rosane. This happened in Texas, because at Harlequin, even though book is set in Canada, Texas has to be involved somehow. Years later, with her daughter now nine years old, Christi’s parents are killed in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, she is contacted by her mother’s cousin Armand, whom she has never met. He invites her to Quebec City to reconnect with her Canadian relations. Eager to meet the rest of her family, she and Rosane travel to Quebec.
Christi arrives in time for the start of Mardi Gras, and Armand takes her to a party that kicks off the celebration. There, she is shocked to see Daniel performing. He is now a well-known (well, except in Texas) concert pianist and something of a celebrity among French-Canadians. Armand is the reason Daniel left Christi all those years ago, and as soon as he sees her on Armand’s arm, Daniel knows that Armand brought her to Quebec for some nefarious purpose. He quickly confronts her and tells her she is in danger. Of course, this being a gothic romance, he has a choice between explaining his fears to her or making a lot of vague statements that say absolutely nothing and only serve to tick her off. You can probably guess which one he goes with.
During the first few chapters, I was prepared to hate this book. To be fair, it was very easy to hate. It kicks off with a highly melodramatic opening line: “Feelings were for fools and Daniel Moreau hadn’t played the fool for anyone in years.” The first chapter pours on the melodrama at the expense of clarity, instead coming across as jumbled and vague. In the second chapter, Christi tells Daniel about their daughter, so the book won back a few points for getting that out of the way. But then Daniel tells her she can’t trust Armand, while refusing to tell her why. Instead, he asks Christi to marry him so he can keep her safe. I have no idea how this is supposed to protect her. If he just wants to get her away from Armand, all he has to do is explain his fears to her and ask her and Rosane to come stay with him instead, right? But no, Daniel proposes. When she understandably resists, he tells her he’ll give her a week to think about it. Apparently Armand is a threat to Christi, but not such a huge threat that she can’t wait a week before getting away from him. Sure.
But somewhere around the third chapter, I stopped resisting the story’s overblown quality and just started to go with it. It’s still very flawed throughout, with character motivations that often defy any sort of rational logic. And yet, I couldn’t help finding it entertaining. Armand is a suitably eeeeeevil villain, very over-the-top, but not so much so that he stops being scary and starts being silly. At least one moment when he uses the main characters’ daughter in his scheme is so rotten my jaw dropped. His deranged plan revolves around his obsession with the legend of a girl who danced with the devil, which is exactly the kind of stuff I love. His intentions for Christi are completely insane, and the story’s climax is brazenly, gloriously, ridiculously over-the-top. It’s the kind of thing that will have readers who prize subtlety and realism snickering in disdain, if they get that far into the story. I couldn’t help it. I ate up every silly, grandiose moment of it.
Christi and Daniel are nowhere close to being deep characters, but they’re sympathetic enough within the constraints of the story. The plot moves quickly and is almost compulsively readable. The author pours on the gothic atmosphere with lines and descriptions that are wonderfully overheated. An example:
“Icicles hung from the top of the window, snake fangs dripping venom. Snowflakes plinked against the glass and crawled down its length like bloated ticks. The shadow of their squiggly tracks wriggled against her blanket as if it were covered with worms.”
My favorite is when she describes a creepy character by saying, “The tone of her voice could have added a layer of rime to hell.” Yes, it’s melodramatic, but who reads gothics for subtlety?
Kurtz’s book is too overheaded to be genuinely creepy, and a lack of development keeps it from being a good gothic. But in its own way, it’s still entertaining. I’m not going to even remotely suggest this book is for everyone. But for readers who enjoy the gothic style, eeeevil villains, insane plots and old legends, who think there’s something fun about this kind of melodramatic excess in all its overblown glory, A Rose at Midnight may be worth a look. You may not want to admit it, but you know who you are.