Dead by Midnight
Contemporary heroines have been growing in sexual freedom, but still tend to be fairly traditional and face certain prejudices. This is why I was surprised when it was revealed that not only did our heroine pose for Playboy, she had a role in an iconic porn movie. The fallout from this and her struggle to redeem herself proved more interesting than the romance in Dead by Midnight.
Lorie Hammonds moved back to her hometown nine years ago after her failed attempts at stardom, and has been trying to hide from her past ever since. Now co-owner of an antique shop and living a quiet, respectable life, she doesn’t expect too many active enemies—so when she starts getting death threats in the mail, she seeks help. Not from the police, as the local sheriff is her first true love and ex-fiancé, but from the Powell Agency, a private detection firm that is the focus of several previous Barton books. It comes out that several people have already been threatened and killed all Lorie’s co-stars from that long-ago porno.
Mike Birkett, police chief and ex-fiancé, has to get involved, even though he’s still extremely bitter about the fact that Lorie chose to pursue acting rather than stay in Alabama and marry him – and all the places Lorie’s choice took her in the subsequent years. As the threats and murders escalate and the two are brought together, he must face his buried feelings for her and whether or not her past has prevented any future between them.
Chemistry between Lorie and Mike was unfortunately lacking. I just didn’t feel it. Theirs is a typical return-to-small-town-and-marry-the-local-law-enforcement story. This usually works for me, but Mike didn’t do anything for me. There wasn’t anything wrong with him, per se, but he lacked any distinctive romantic qualities.
As I said, the issue of forgiveness and second chances, particularly in Mike’s mind, was one of the most interesting parts of the book. Lorie has a questionable past to be certain; any one who cares to look can see her naked and having sex with two different guys. She faces a lot of criticism in her town, and the so-called “Midnight Killer” brings it all back up. Mike’s attitudes are most relevant, and potentially controversial. He has his children to think about, and must consider the potential influence and community’s reaction to any relationship between them. Is a former porn actress an acceptable stepmother? It’s an interesting question and I enjoyed the development, but I felt the end took some steps backward in the evolution of Mike’s acceptance and prejudices.
The Powell Agency is clearly a frequently visited company in Barton’s world, but as a result there were so many characters and storylines and connections that it was hard to keep track, especially for a newcomer like me. We also visited the lives of all of the victims, which just presented more stories and characters, and even saw the beginnings of yet another serial killer’s work against the Powell Agency. If you ask me, one serial killer is enough for one novel (and so is one villain, another problem with this story).
I guess saying that the book provides an interesting glimpse into the societal obstacles to redemption and acceptance isn’t exactly highest praise for a romance novel. But that’s what I did enjoy out of it.