EITHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT by Benjamin Stevenson (Michael Joseph, 1 September 2020)
Benjamin Stevenson’s Greenlight (also published as She Lies In The Vines) was one of my favourite Australian crime novels of 2018 and his new novel, Either Side Of Midnight, is almost as good.
Disgraced true crime documentary maker Jack Quick is in the final days of a prison sentence, following the events in Greenlight, when he is approached by Harry Midford to prove that his twin brother, Sam, was murdered. The only problem is that Sam was a popular late night TV host and a million viewers watched him pull out a gun and kill himself live on national TV. Jack is very skeptical about Harry’s murder claims. but desperate for the money, he agrees to investigate and soon finds himself caught up in a mystery more complex than he first assumed.
Stevenson has concocted a clever variation on the classic ‘locked room mystery’ and peopled it with credible, interesting characters. The story initially unfolds at a good pace, with Jack quickly identifying some suspicious elements, before heading in a totally unexpected direction. Drawing on some recent real life cases and popular television shows, Stevenson skillfully explores difficult issues of mental health and the expanding influence of technology, within the framework of a compelling crime mystery to good effect.
Stevenson is a very engaging author and he delivers his story in a confident manner with a seemingly authoritative understanding of the television industry, documentaries and the trauma of living with someone on life-support. An award winning member of a stand-up comedy duo with his twin brother, Stevenson also brings some light touches of humour to his story and several amusingly wry observations on life. His descriptions are simple, but effective, and he quickly creates instantly recognisable scenes:
“Jack peered into the row of caravans. A family, ranging in age from a toothless elderly man, to a beer-bellied guy in a black singlet about Jack’s age, all the way down to a baby cradled on its mother’s stomach, sat around a portable Weber barbeque in a semi-circle of canvas camping chairs. The man in the singlet was standing, drinking from a brown glass stubby. He took a swig, then dumped a healthy pour on the meat.”
Central to the story are the complexity of male relationships between brothers, fathers and sons and friends. Stevenson handles these relationships in a sympathetic and rich manner, adding real depth to his novel. Despite the book’s various concerns, the plot moves at a solid pace for most of its length before picking up in tempo over the last fifty pages or so as it quickly moves to the startling conclusion.
In the end, Either Side Of Midnight is a very entertaining and engrossing crime story that delivers some neat twists and surprises, and a very tense climax. On reflection, some of the elements of the resolution do not stand up to close scrutiny, but most readers will be too caught up in the story to notice or care.
Four stars out of five!
Either Side Of Midnight will be released in Australia on 1 September 2020. Release dates for the United Kingdom and America are less clear, although it would seem to be available as a very reasonably priced audible book in the United Kingdom from 1 September.