Friday, November 13, 2020

Simone St. James - The other Side of Midnight

London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she's been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.
Ellie doesn't contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can't refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria's secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.
As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria's life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria's circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it...

Comment: Having seen so many positive comments on this story in the recent years, I added it to my TBR and only now did I finally get to it. I convinced my friend H. to read it with me and this was it, although I must say I expected a lot better.

In this historical fiction mystery, we meet heroine Ellie Winter, a medium/psychic who has the ability to see dead people and find things about them but who no longer does seances, especially since her mother died. Her mother, the famous "fantastique" had had only Gloria Sutton as a rival, and larger than life Gloria befriended her closer in age Ellie to find a way to erase the competition. Years after their fall out, Ellie now works as a simple consultant, helping people find lost things but she is as shocked as anyone when Gloria is found dead. Now, with Gloria's brother wanting to know what she can find out, being interrogated by the police and a reporter from her past wanting to prove her a fake, will Ellie be able to find what happened to Gloria before she becomes the target too?

I fully expected a sort of Gothic-type of story. I thought this not only because of the ghosts and the mediums and the seances but because the plot takes place in the 20s and it that is the time where these things seemed to have more impact on society somehow. I imagined complicated motifs, secluded arrangements, family secrets, fear of exposure, fear of the unknown...the kinds of things one might expect from stories where the supernatural could have had a specific meaning for most people.

It's true the plot is centered on these things. A psychic murdered when she was about to conduct a seance, one of the witnesses also ends up dead, the couple that requested the seance disappears... all clues that point out to scaring scenarios of people watching, of people hiding.. my imagination invented quite a lot and although some of these things can be found throughout the novel, I'm afraid I struggled to be interested. I can't help but saying that the element were there, but the overall feel I had while reading was one of boredom. The story is just boring or I wasn't in the right frame of mind, but the scary parts didn't impact me and the reveals felt very, very lukewarm.

I think the overall story isn't bad, sure I could do with different choices by the author and the end, when we find out who killed Gloria, was not the shock I suppose the author aimed for. But the mystery could have worked, I'd say, had the narrator been more compelling or with a different personality or able to find things in a different way, I'm not certain how to express myself. The thing is, for me, Ellie is a likable character but she is not easy to sympathize with. The fact the story is told by her in the first person turned me off from being more partial to what was happening.

The crimes committed and some of the clues we follow along Ellie to know what happened to Gloria are all fine but I missed more on society, more on those Ellie interacted with... Ok, this is a mystery so the focus is on that but I think more setting up, more on the characters and their family bonds, more on Ellie as person instead of just a psychic, more on her own family would have given more clues to understand everyone. It felt as if those characters were only there to fit the role they had to play and it could have been anyone.

There are also what was labeled "romantic elements", meaning the focus is not it, but there's a romance happening. Ellie has some history with her love interest and I thought that, at least, would be cause for conflict or evolution for Ellie, for instance, on how she could become better because she would develop a relationship with that man.Sadly, no, the romance is barely touched apart from some intimacy scenes and some others which we are to take as proof of their feelings but then, 1) being Ellie the single narrator we don't know what the man is thinking and b) the dialogues between them are supposed to let us infer things, not really see them happening.

I still think perhaps this was a case of "me, not the book", I might not have read this at the best time, and I will try another book by the author at some point. However, with such praise, I did expect all aspects of this novel to be superb but it wasn't so, after all.

Grade: 5/10

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