New Orleans is an occupied city in 1862, and the locals have no reason to trust the Union military currently in charge. So when a respected Creole doctor, Henri Santerre, is mysteriously murdered while visiting the graves of friends, few expect the murderer to be pursued or caught – especially Emmanuelle de Beauvais, who witnessed the crime.
Emmanuelle, a native of France, loves New Orleans, and even though she abhors the practice of slavery she has no love for the Union army or its soldiers, who murdered her husband. So when provost marshal, Major Zachary Cooper, arrives to investigate Santerre’s murder, she doesn’t trust him and is not forthcoming with information. Even though Zach understands her distrust, he’s frustrated because he’s matched wits with a murderer before and wants to catch this one. Especially when it’s uncovered that Emmanuelle was the true target in the cemetery. Yet as the bodies pile up, Emmanuelle cooperates only partially and reluctantly. Even though she’s falling for Zach, she’s been burned in the past and can’t trust any man. Soon it becomes a race to find the truth before the killer can touch Emmanuelle.
While I liked the mystery in this book, which has enough twists and turns and false leads that it’s hard to see the true villain, I found the romance sorely lacking. Zach’s attraction to Emmanuelle seemed to be based solely on her looks, because it certainly wasn’t her sparkling personality. The woman lies to him at every turn and lets him know she hates him for being a northerner and a Union soldier. Emmanuelle’s attraction to Zachary is even less plausible, because she spends so much of the book distrusting and resisting him. When she announces that she is in love, it feels unexpected and tacked on.
Though while I was disappointed in the romance angle, the mystery made up for it. Proctor uses the New Orleans setting to her advantage. Her descriptions of its sultry weather, constant threat of disease from the swampy atmosphere, and diverse population add up to build a sense of distrust and impending doom. I also liked the fact the book’s point of view stayed pretty much Southern: Emmanuelle didn’t turn into a Yankee sympathizer just because she was against slavery. Also her dislike for the practice seemed more reasonable because she was raised primarily in France and not the South.
As for the characters, I liked Zachary, but his taste in women is questionable. He’s a man of honor stuck between a rock and hard place trying to follow orders while keeping his conscience clean. He does the best he can with what he’s given, realizing one must do the wrong thing on occasion if one wants to be able to do the right thing eventually.Emmanuelle, with her misguided and perpetual lying, was harder to like. She was a prickly character and got on my nerves when she got upset with Zachary for killing men in self-defense. Yes, killing is wrong, but to expect a man in the heat of battle to keep from fatally wounding men who are trying to kill him is more than a bit extreme and definitely unfair.
Of the secondary characters, I most enjoyed Captain Hamish Fletcher. The son of Scottish immigrants and a New York City police officer before the war, he adds comic relief on occasion. He also keeps the investigation on track by using his head while Zachary is allowing other body parts to do the thinking. The villain(s) were a bit cliché, as were references to Emmanuelle’s late-husband, a standard evil first love who destroyed the heroine’s ability to trust again.
Really, in the end, Midnight Confessions was a mixed bag of both good and bad. Good mystery, bad romance. When it came time to decide on a grade, I decided on a B- because it kept me turning the pages and made me want to search out other works by Proctor. From what I’ve read in other reviews, this is not her best work; but the writing is solid, the research obvious but inserted smoothly into the flow the story, and the story engrossing enough to leave me wanting more.