This book has such an intriguing setting: the 1930s, first in Spain at the outset of the Civil War, and then in San Francisco. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? I’m not necessarily a fan of vampire novels – I’ve read as many bad ones as good ones – but The Chronicles of Saint-Germain (of which this is the sixteenth book) has a good reputation. So when I sat down with Midnight Harvest, it was with a pleasant feeling of anticipation. I was resoundingly disappointed.
Ferenc Ragoczy, Count of Saint-Germain, is a four-thousand-year-old vampire who feeds by giving women orgasms (there is apparently some bloodsucking involved as well, but the descriptions are vague). As the book opens, he and his servant, Rogerio, are in Spain, where Ragoczy owns a profitable airplane factory. He is concerned that the army will want to use his factory to build weapons or military aircraft. As expected, a warrant is issued for his arrest so that the government can confiscate his property, including the factory. He helps his lover escape to England, and then he and Rogerio flee for America. Unknown to them, the Spanish send an assassin after him.
Eventually arriving in California, Ragoczy hooks up with Rowena Saxon, a lover from a previous book. (Since Ragoczy nourishes himself through sex, it makes sense that he would have a steady girlfriend wherever he goes.) He also gets involved in a series of thefts taking place in the San Francisco area, and investigates the depredations of a white supremacist group in the Sonoma area.
This is one of the most boring novels I have ever read in my life. Exhaustingly boring. Amazingly boring, considering the setting and premise. It’s taken me over a week to get through this book, and I feel like I’ve spent that time digging a ditch.
Take, for example, the sequence in which Ragoczy and Rogerio are fleeing Spain. This should have been exciting, but it’s not. It’s 37 pages of nothing. They talk about the weather and their route. They talk about which car to take. The way the luggage is loaded into the car is described. They discuss a man with a goat-cart they see on the road. They converse with the guy who sells them some new tires, during which the guy recommends a restaurant owned by his brother-in-law. Eventually they get to an airport in Cherbourg, France. They describe the type of plane that will take them across the Atlantic. They tell the plane’s crew how luggage should be put into the plane. The weather is discussed again, as are current events. Ragoczy apologizes, repeatedly, for being nervous about flying, and Rogerio repeatedly reassures him.
If all of that doesn’t get your pulse pounding, just wait until they get to America, where Ragoczy decides to buy a car. The type and exact specifications of the car are described at length, as are the two salesmen and the fact that one of the salesmen will try to cheat the other one out of his commission. Ragoczy takes a test drive and decides to have an extra gas tank put in the car, and they talk about how much this will cost and who will do the work. And then Ragoczy gets insurance for the car.
Having researched the minute trivia of the 1930s, Yarbro must have decided she was darn well going to include it all in the novel, whether it’s relevant or not. Every time anyone goes anywhere in San Francisco, she tells the exact sequence of roads they use to get there, as if I cared. She also makes up irrelevant details, and gives us those too: Ragoczy’s house is 34 years old, and has two electric outlets in each room and tile floors in the bathroom. Such mundane details, about everything imaginable, are provided throughout the book. I’m not all that interested in electric outlets and car insurance in my own life; I certainly don’t desire to read about them in novels.
Exacerbating the problem is Yarbro’s tin ear for dialogue. I generally applaud writers who use dialogue to define their characters, but the main thing you learn about these characters from their conversations is that they are monotonous people with a fondness for meaningless platitudes. The things you really want to know about them are left unsaid. For instance, Ragoczy’s servant Rogerio is a totally mystery to me. He’s two thousand years old, but he doesn’t seem to be a vampire – at least, he’s not the same kind of vampire that Ragoczy is. All I really know about him is that he is boring and likes to talk about the weather. I burst into despairing laughter during one tense moment, after a brutal racist murder, when Rogerio suddenly says, “You know, for a state with a reputation for sunshine, we’ve seen a great deal of rain and fog.”
As if all of that weren’t enough, the author likes to intersperse her chapters with long, long letters and memos to and from various people, usually only peripherally related to the main characters. Most of them are totally irrelevant, and all of them are extremely repetitive.
This could have been an interesting story, but instead it’s just tedious. Because of Yarbro’s excellent reputation, I can only assume that earlier books in the series were less tiresome than this one. I do not recommend Midnight Harvest, unless you’re a huge Saint-Germain fan or a chronic insomniac. What a wasted opportunity for Yarbro; what a waste of time for me.