Wait Until Midnight
Mrs. Caroline Fordyce is a young widow living with her two aunts, Milly and Emma, at 22 Corley Street. Having survived a Great Scandal three years ago, Mrs. Fordyce now makes a comfortable living as a writer of sensation novels serialized in weekly installments of the Flying Intelligencer, one of Victorian London’s popular newspapers. Her current serial, The Mysterious Gentleman, is wildly popular with everyone from newsboys to members of Society.
In the course of preparatory research for her next novel, Caroline comes into contact with several noted mediums, among them Elizabeth Delmont, who is murdered. Delmont was a blackmailer, and the victim of her malice is the wealthy Adam Hardesty. Hardesty finds Caroline’s name and address on a list of those attending Delmont’s last seance. He calls upon her to see if she has any information on the murder; Caroline uses the opportunity to model the villain of The Mysterious Gentleman after Adam.
Quick gives Adam a rags to riches background – thus the blackmail material – but he never acts like someone who grew up in the stews of London, in Seven Dials or Whitechapel. He makes a few remarks about how he never really belongs in the Polite World, but it’s all telling, not showing. The reader never sees any awkwardness, any discomfort. Indeed, Adam seems almost too comfortable. He has no angst, no insecurity, no…nothing. (His rescued-from-abject-poverty siblings have even less than nothing when it comes to character depth, but since this isn’t their story, I won’t mark Quick down for it.)
Caroline, for all her fear of another Great Scandal like the one three years ago, eventually launches herself right smack into one when she offers Adam an outrageously scandalous alibi for his whereabouts during another murder. Can you spell “inconsistent”? How about “inconsistent for the sake of plot”? Part of the reason for the Great Scandal is that she was an unconventional girl even then, unmarried – and happy to be that way – indulging in her passion for writing. Once she escapes from her provincial abode and sets up in London as a widow, she could engage in affairs if she wanted to, but she doesn’t – until Adam Hardesty knocks on her door. Literally within days, she is crawling into bed with him. She whose life has been tainted by the Great Scandal simply throws off all her conventions.
Worst of all, however, is that there is no spark between these two lovers. No sexual tension, no emotion, no passion, no nothing. So the romance not only doesn’t sizzle, it doesn’t even snore. And the mystery plot is underdone and never truly integrated into the romance.
Had the writing had been stellar, I might have ignored the thin plotting, but the writing was dull. Too much dialogue that didn’t shine, and too little atmosphere. Not one shred of adventure. Not one iota of real mystery. Not one drop of excitement.
And then there’s the historical background. Quick, known for her ability to capture the 1800s so well, doesn’t do so here. There are the obligatory portraits of Queen Victoria in mourning, a house described as a squat gothic, and a threadbare sofa in one scene, but where’s the Victorian clutter, the furbelows and overstuffed chairs and pantaloons on the piano legs, the aspidistras and antimacassars? They most definitely are not on the pages of Wait Until Midnight.
From the portraits of Victoria in mourning, we know that this novel takes place after Prince Albert’s death in 1861. Hardesty mentions using the telegraph to send messages, but not the telephone, which came into use in London in the early 1880s. So all we have for historical setting is a general range of approximately 20 years. Throw in a few hackney coaches and hansom cabs, a couple of references to gaslights and thick fog, and presto! It’s a Victorian romance…not.
Even the title is a disappointment. “Wait Until Midnight” suggests gothic suspense, an unseen threat menacing our heroine until the stalwart hero saves the day – or night, as the case may be. None of that happens in the book. This book is a waste of paper and ink, saved from a grade of F because it didn’t contain anything really offensive.
If your preferred reading leans to the ultra-light fluffy stuff with no stress, no mystery, no suspense, no history, no description, and no romance, this might be for you. Otherwise, my advice is don’t just wait until midnight; wait until something a lot better than this comes along.