Midnight on the River Grey
I enjoy a good romantic suspense story, and when this title appeared with its hint of classic Gothic romance from a well-known Christian publisher, I was intrigued. Although Midnight on the River Grey is classed by online retailers as a Christian mystery, the book is a sweet romantic mystery with no obvious spiritual or moral themes.
After the death of her mother, Rebecca Hunter moves to London to live with her Aunt Josephine. The ladies have little income, but it is Rebecca’s hope that she can convince the Court of Chancery to grant her a new guardian. Once she has accomplished that, she and her aunt will be able to access the money meant for her dowry and set up their own establishment.
Mr. Lewis Browning of Greybourne Hall is Rebecca’s current guardian. In a convoluted twist of fate. her elder brother Jacob had been working for him but was killed in a fall off a bridge on the Browning estate. The death was officially ruled an accident but there are hints that Lewis Browning was somehow involved, and Rebecca is convinced that means her beloved brother was murdered. She arrived at this conclusion in no small part because of letters from her “silly, prattling” cousin Ellen whom she believes “had flushed out the details surrounding Jacob’s death.” The family’s entailed inheritance passed to Lewis, a distant cousin, giving him ample motive for the crime.
Before Rebecca can do anything to set her plan to change guardians in motion, Lewis arrives in London to inform the ladies that they will be relocated to Greybourne Hall. Rebecca is incensed that he would force them to leave their home. Deeply distrusting the man’s motives and convinced of his guilt, Rebecca nonetheless sees the move as a chance to investigate the circumstances surrounding her brother’s death.
Upon arrival at the estate, Aunt Jo hints that perhaps a marriage to Lewis would secure Rebecca’s future. She points out that Lewis has been generous in including her in his invitation for them to live at Greybourne Hall since she is not related to him, and moreover, he has gifted Rebecca with an entirely new wardrobe. Rebecca dismisses the idea of marrying him out of hand; she is there to discover what happened to her brother. As Rebecca searches for clues, her impression grows that all is not right at Greybourne Hall. The Hall itself is dark and confusing, clearly in need of refurbishing and repair. Because Lewis rarely appears during the day, the townspeople have dubbed him the Midnight Devil, a nickname Rebecca can understand when she spies Lewis riding out late at night toward strange lights among the trees. Aunt Jo’s dog mysteriously disappears for several days then reappears bearing a barely healed knife wound along her neck.
Then tragedy strikes. When Rebecca and her aunt visit the bridge where Jacob died, they discover the body of Mr. Drake, a friend of Lewis’. His death is ultimately ruled an accident, but Lewis confides to Rebecca that, having seen the body and the evidence, he believes his friend was murdered. Two deaths. One bridge. Many questions and few answers. The changes in her life and the questions trigger Rebecca’s night terrors, which increase her fear of developing the dementia her mother died of. Amid the strange occurrences, Rebecca’s feelings for Lewis are slowly changing, especially after an impromptu picnic luncheon where they find common ground. They move forward cautiously, both on a personal level and to solve the murders, each uncertain of the other.
Overall, I liked the characters. Rebecca is not your classic, alone-in-the-world Gothic heroine. She has a loving, supportive aunt on whom she can depend and enjoyed a carefree childhood before her mother’s illness. She’s curious, devoted to her brother’s memory, and although she distrusts Lewis, she is bright enough to acknowledge his good points and rely on her own interactions with him to form her impressions, not accept town gossip as truth. Lewis is well-drawn, worried about his responsibilities and the dangers facing his estate and his country, doing his best to right wrongs, and enduring some backlash from his people for it. The author expands his perspective from a focus on his responsibilities to a view toward his future and possible love in a manner appropriate for the time period and for his circumstances. The mystery clues are scattered throughout the story and are just vague enough to keep the reader guessing until the truth is revealed.
Two things bothered me throughout the story. First, in a mystery, one of the most important questions is ‘Who knew what, when?’ I was confused as to what and when Rebecca learned about Lewis’s involvement in Jacob’s death. For example, we learn that Lewis knocked Jacob off the bridge when Rebecca refers to a previous letter that she had from her cousin Ellen. Presenting so crucial a detail in a recollection and providing no details about when this letter arrived detached the information from the story flow. If we had seen Rebecca read the letter and react to it, the information would have better supported Rebecca’s initial mistrust of Lewis. Ellen’s letters are a main source of detail about Jacob and Lewis, but presenting them as recollections diluted their impact.
Second, the emotional arcs of both the mystery and the romance are relatively short. Within the first quarter of the book, Rebecca’s growing trust and attraction to Lewis led me to believe that Rebecca and Lewis would ultimately be a couple and that Lewis was not maliciously involved in Jacob’s death. Even Aunt Jo questions Rebecca’s quick trust after so much initial animosity, and Rebecca can give her no answer. Given a romance that is settled early and a mystery in which the hero has been absolved by the heroine, the reader is left with two main characters who work together on an intellectual exercise to solve the murders, but with little conflict or tension between them.
The way crucial details were presented and the lack of emotional tension in both the romance and the mystery storylines weakened Midnight on the River Grey and prevent me from giving it my wholehearted recommendation. If you like a light mystery story with a little spookiness and a sweet romance, you might find it a good read, but those looking for something with substance will need to look elsewhere.