Just Before Midnight
by Suzanne Robinson, historical (2000)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57961-4


This story reminds me of a Road Runner vs Wild E Cayote chase. Altogether now: Cheyne Tennant *beep beep* that Mattie Bright is after you! Mattie Bright *beep beep* that Cheyne Tennant is after you! Just Before Midnight mixes cartoony characters with an equally cartoony premise that the only saving grace is a mystery that kept me guessing. It's not a good sign when I start to wish that the two main characters would just get lost and let me read about the blackmailer.

That's right - a blackmailer is extorting money from the Ton. And the silly victims are killing themselves left and right. Our hero Lord Cheyne Tennant who is currently working in trade - he's a private inquiry agent - is called in. He grits his teeth and reimmerses himself into the social world. You see, Cheyne hates Society. The pain of doing nothing and dancing in ballrooms all day really get to him. Poor man.

His nemesis is Mathilda Bright, known as Mattie. Her car almost killed him on the street, and when they meet again in the ballrooms of 1899 London, they start sabotaging each other. Road Runner *beep beep*... Then Cheyne decides that Mattie would make the perfect bait for the blackmailer and they start sending each other love poems. Just to give the blackmailer something to "blackmail" Mattie.

They start believing their love letters, and they start snogging in between I hate you, skunk! I hate you too, savage hoyden! Frankly, I can't care less.

Mattie may be feisty and speaks like a bad sideshow cowboy, but she keeps tearing up or looking hurt every time someone mentions her father that I wonder if I'm supposed to laugh. Fine, she misses her father, but everytime she thinks of her father or someone mentions him in passing, she acts as if she's painfully constipated. After the sixth time in as many chapters I begin to wonder if there's an inside joke I'm missing.

And Cheyne, he acts like a bullmastiff with a thorn in all his four paws and one stuck up his butt for one good measure. When he's not lipsmacking with Mattie, he's growling, going on and on about how stupid and shallow Society is, how he wants to suffocate Mattie... gosh, Madonna's pregnant again - someone turn up the volume of the TV!

Mattie and Cheyne are nothing more than one-note characters performing the same act again and again in dull monotonous repetitions. Bicker, snog, bicker, snog. The mystery is interesting, I never could guess who the blackmailer is, but I have to hand it to the blackmailer. That fellow's the only smart one in this story. For all their ridicule of the ways of the Society, Mattie and Cheyne only reinforce them. After all, she wanted to marry a Duke, and Cheyne is the eldest son of an aged and probably dying Duke. It is so easy to sneer when you're secure in your position, isn't it?

The blackmailer's the only one with the guts to exact revenge on Society. Mattie and Cheyne, for all their protests to the contrary, only embrace Society in the end, and hence ruin the last vestiges of their credibility.

Rating: 61


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