Grade : C

There is a saying in real estate that three things matter: location, location, location. Midnight is a novel that leans heavily on this aphorism, letting the setting of a luxurious ocean cruise to Antarctica do the heavy lifting for the storytelling.

Olivia Campbell is afraid of the water. Well, not so much the water as boats. For reasons that are not explained to the reader till the midpoint of the text, she links them to her father’s death and has developed a bit of a phobia about them. This makes what she is about to do seem rather risky: She is going on a luxury cruise with her boyfriend Aaron to Antarctica. Recovering from a nervous breakdown that essentially tanked her career and nearly destroyed her relationship, the trip is meant to be an opportunity to rework both. She and Aaron have formed Hunt Advisory, a group that will help scout and nurture artistic talent. Their first auction is to take place aboard the opulent liner with the beauty of the icy sea being the backdrop against which the work of the recently deceased Kostas Yenin will shine. His paintings echo the landscapes outside the ship’s windows and will be a valuable keepsake for the wealthy patrons aboard.

Things go wrong almost from the start. Aaron has no sooner boarded than he has to go back on land to deal with a mysterious issue. Assuring Olivia he will return before the ship leaves, he ends up not making it and she spends a frantic twenty-four hours searching for him onboard as well as trying to reach him on land (not easy to do when internet and cell service are spotty) without success. When he finally emails her that he missed the boat and to have fun without him, she is understandably furious. She allows a honeymooning couple to take her double bed while she bunks in with three other women in a singles cabin. Then she goes off to work only to have the auctioneer dismiss everything she says and, in the absence of Aaron, rework the auction to suit himself. Even as she tries to finagle her way through this, Olivia finds herself suddenly accident-prone - she is nearly choked by her life jacket and then almost killed by a fall on the stairs. She is certain there was someone behind her both times but is assured by others that there wasn’t.

It is at this point she learns the couple she gave her cabin to have been poisoned. Her frantic questioning leads to the discovery that they brought the drugs onto the cruise themselves, but Olivia can’t help but wonder if the whole incident didn’t have something to do with her.

An average grade review is the toughest to write because there is nothing particularly right or wrong with the story. What that means in terms of this particular novel is that it is a pretty basic mystery in which a naive, emotionally fragile, and rather unobservant young woman tries to deal with trauma from her past (her fear of sailing/being on ships and the recent nervous breakdown) while also trying to figure out what is happening in her present. Olivia does not make for a good amateur sleuth; her investigating tends to be clunky, her questioning of suspects obvious, and her intuition non-existent. She is also impeded by her lack of access to the internet and cell service and her lack of knowledge regarding Aaron, his business, and his friends. This feels awkward because she was supposedly on the trip with him as the financial guru of his company. The fact that she didn’t know the company was in the red, nor various deals he’s made with some of the people on board, shows she was woefully unprepared to hold that position.

Tension in a mystery tends to come from the reader's desire to figure out just what is going on or their concerns for the character’s safety, but I didn’t really feel any of that here. Olivia is so clueless and hapless that I struggled to care about what she and Aaron had landed themselves into, figuring any disaster that happened they had probably brought on themselves (I was right). I also didn’t care about them as people. In spite of being given a good deal of Olivia’s backstory, she never felt real to me. Perhaps it’s simply that the writing relies heavily on telling rather than showing, but the information I had on Olivia’s character didn’t translate to understanding or liking her. Aaron is barely present, and the secondary characters, including the villain, are caricatures.

I'll add that it’s odd to hear about the environmental impact on Antarctica - from tourists in Antarctica. From what I've read, both their presence and that of the boats that carry them there are responsible for at least some of the damage being done to that area.

The positives are that the story has decent pacing, readable prose, and none of the characters are hateful. Faint praise, which reflects the grade given.

A rather lackluster mystery, Midnight is dependent on the unique location to make for an interesting tale. The descriptions are lovely and intriguing and the isolation of the setting does add an oomph factor to the story. But it’s not enough of one to save it from its shortcomings. If you absolutely love Antarctica and cruise ships, maybe pick it up just for that. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : C
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : January 27, 2024

Publication Date: 01/2024

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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