Home Before Midnight
Home Before Midnight was competently written, but it never engaged me as other books by Virginia Kantra (particularly her series romances) have done in the past. I simply did not bond with the characters and the plot never really came together in a satisfactory way.
Bailey Wells left her hometown, Stokesville, North Carolina, intending to become a writer. She’s knocked around New York on the edge of the publishing industry and has even written a novel, but so far she remains unpublished. Bailey is currently the personal assistant to Paul Ellis, a popular true crime writer. She joins him on a trip to Stokesville to research the Lawler case for his next book. In 1987 Billy Ray Lawler stabbed his mother, grandmother, and sister to death and was quickly convicted and sentenced to life. Too quickly, in Paul’s opinion. In his books, he takes cases where there is a strong suspicion of justice gone awry – the Lawler case looks to be a prime example. With case files from the district attorney, Paul has settled in Stokesville to interview Billy Ray and others involved with the case.
Paul’s wife Helen Stokes is a member of the town’s founding family. She is a rich trophy wife, addicted to liquor and plastic surgery, but we don’t see much of her. Bailey is living in Paul and Helen’s guesthouse and one evening when she goes to get a midnight snack, she finds Helen floating in the pool dead. Since Helen was known to be a drinker, it appears to be an accident…until the medical examiner finds evidence that she was hit on the head with a blunt object.
Steve Burke is in charge of the case. He is also a Stokesville native who was formerly a detective with the Washington D.C. police force. Steve returned to Stokesville with his daughter Gabrielle after his wife died and their housekeeper went back to Brazil. Steve and Gabrielle live with his mother, who babysits during Steve’s often irregular hours. Steve chafes at the dullness of life in Stokesville, and looks forward to working on a real murder case.
Bailey is the first and most logical suspect. She was on the site and had the motive – she seemingly was attracted to Paul. Meanwhile, Helen’s daughter Regan comes to town for the funeral and takes an instant hatred toward Bailey (she already hates Paul). Bailey moves back into her mother’s house with the Lawler files to work on them and at the same time, plan the funeral since neither Paul nor Regan is capable of doing it. After the funeral, Paul drunkenly tries to kiss her and Bailey, revolted, runs away. The next morning, Paul is found dead with a gun in his hand. Bailey has an alibi – she was nowhere near the site. Then someone breaks into Bailey’s home, coshes her father and steals Tanya Lawler’s diary from the files.
There is a good plot for a small town police procedural here, but the ingredients didn’t jell very well. The main reason for the killings – the Lawler case – is offstage for a lot of the book, and the villain was so obvious he might as well have been wearing a “Bad Guy” t-shirt. As for Bailey and Steve, I couldn’t care too much about them.
Bailey came across as spineless. After writing a YA novel, she wouldn’t submit it because Paul said she wasn’t ready. All she did was follow in his wake and do whatever he asked. When she was alone, she brooded a lot about how her life was crappy, and ate ice cream to comfort herself. Did she really have a crush on Paul? I don’t know – I thought she did, but when he kissed her she was revolted, but up until then she gave a pretty good impression of being smitten with him to some degree. Toward the end of the book, Bailey does grow a spine and act like a sensible woman, but I never warmed up to her.
Steve was a bland character. I’ll admit I got very exasperated with him when he talked about his late wife. She died of advanced ovarian cancer and would not undergo chemotherapy. She said that since the cancer was so advanced, she didn’t want to suffer the side effects of the chemo. Steve disagreed and blames himself for her death. Please! He wasn’t responsible and his angsting that her death was all his fault made him seem foolish. I could not fathom his attraction to Bailey other than she was young, hot, and his daughter liked her.
Virginia Kantra’s older series romances are some of my all time favorites. She can write good suspense with interesting and likable characters, but she failed to engage me with this book. I will continue reading her though – the lady can deliver the goods, even though she missed with this one.