by Candice Proctor, historical (2002)
Ivy, $6.99, ISBN 0-345-44717-4
When she's good, she's very good. When Candice Proctor is in less than top form, as in Midnight Confessions, however, her prose is still very good. Therefore, Midnight Confessions is a very frustrating read because it keeps teasing me as to how good it could have been - every page, every word. It's like I'm being haunted by the Ghosts of Christmas or something.
This book may as well be Candice Proctor's first historical romantic suspense. The characters spend more time investigating a murder than to indulge in a romance, and as a result, the romance between Yankee marshal provost Zachary Cooper and Confederate symphatizer Emmanuelle de Beauvais rings false and hollow.
Yes, this is a post-Civil War romance set in New Orleans, and credit must be given to Ms Proctor: instead of yet another sick-Confed spy posing as Yankee hero nursed by angry Confed symphatizing widow thing, Midnight Confessions instead evokes the claustrophobic chaos of the melting pot that is New Orleans, where racial tensions simmer and trouble seems to be on the verge of breaking loose any moment. Atmosphere is something that is abundant in this book, and that's very good.
Emmanuelle (widow, hubby died in the war, and now she hates all Yanks) and her doctor surrogate father/friend/business partner are visiting the graveyard one day to pay respects for their loved one. She stumbles and when the doctor Henri Santerre bends to help pick her up, someone shoots a crossbow bolt right through his heart. Ouchie. She suspects that the bolt is meant for her, and she shivers in fear.
As Henri Santerre is a respected Creole doctor in New Orleans, the Yankee occupants of New Orleans have to investigate, and hence enters Zach Cooper, the reluctant marshal provost. Emmanuelle is a hostile witness, but soon he is attracted to her, yadda yadda yadda. In the meantime, Emmanuelle is trying her best to keep the hospital her late husband, her late father, and the late Henri Santerre opened, and she also has her son Dominic to think about.
Incidentally, I find it amusing how anti-Yankee Midnight Confessions can be at times. Probably there is a good reason why General Benjamin Butler should receive Ms Proctor's mighty middle digit, but it is amusing that Emmanuelle and Zach both agree that the soldiers of the North are a racist, cruel, evil lot. Mind you, the last I check, New Orleans didn't secede because they want to end all slavery in New Orleans, and hence them calling the Yankees racist must be a brilliant example of irony. Then again, Ms Proctor defensively maintains that only 4,169 out of 170,000 people in New Orleans during the 1860s own slaves, so yeah, all hail New Orleans, land of enlightenment and equal opportunities! All crucify Abe Lincoln, that racist pig!
Yes, I'm so easily amused, but I have to be, because the mystery in Midnight Confessions is an exercise in head-banging frustration. See, Emmanuelle has clues. She knows where the murder weapon is, and she knows the murderer is someone closer to her than she initially realized. But does she tell Zach this, even after Zach has proven that he is trying to do a fair job at investigating the murder? Of course not! Emma is definitely too stupid to live - she worries about her son, but at the same time, she prefers to hug herself in worry and rising panic instead.
There is nothing here that a little cooperation with the authorities can't help. But Emma spends so much time railing about how she is sure that Zach will only prosecute innocent people just to close the case that she has no idea how ridiculous her logic is. I don't see her playing Nancy Drew, so who the heck is going to solve this case then?
The author knows this: at one point Zach tells off Emma in frustration that she is letting her blind prejudice get in the way of things. I guess Ms Proctor has just overplayed Emma's unreasonable and unintelligent stubborn prejudices to the detriment of the story.
Worse is the romance. Emma claims to hate hate hate Zach so much, but then comes the abrupt kiss that comes out of the blue somewhere in the middle of the story, and then she's changing her tune slightly. Huh? The author uses the age-old cheap plot device to bring about Emma's epiphany: Emma listens to Zach's sad story about how he caused the death of this girl who loves him (note that he doesn't love her - because we know romance only happens once in a lifetime, you know) and she realizes that oh, he is hurting, let's have sex, and oh, it's love! In a pig's eye, that is.
Halfway through the barrage of plot clichés and hackneyed armchair psychology yammerings passed off as character development, I make a wild stab at the identity of the killer. In a story where parochia and hatred evaporate in the heat of a mere kiss and his sad, sad sob story, the villain has got to be just as hackneyed and ridiculous a plot device. And guess what? I am right - right down to the character's gender, motivations, and the loony rantings the villain will indulge in in that final showdown.
How sad is that? Midnight Confessions is a well-written piece of hackneyed, clichéd romance mired in a mystery that could have been good if not for lack of communication plot device. Coming from an author who has proven that she can deliver better, Midnight Confessions is enough to further disillusion even an already overcynical reader like me. What good authors rely on bad, bad trite plot devices, well, what is the world coming to, eh?
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