The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James
NAL Trade: April 7, 2015 (Historical Fiction; Mystery)*
A psychic, if she is to have a career, must deal with both skeptics and believers. They both bring their own set of problems – skeptics with their endless needling questions, believers with their suffocating faith. My mother taught me that, in the middle of the storm, the medium herself must have one philosophy: Believe, or don’t believe. It is up to you.
Ellie Winters is a psychic, she doesn’t contact the dead, but she finds things, things that people have lost. She’s been living a lonely life for the past three years since a bad falling out with her close friend, Gloria, and the death of her mother. Ellie’s dreary, but safe life is about to be changed when Gloria is murdered, only leaving a note behind that Ellie can find her.
Gloria’s older brother pulls Ellie into the investigation of her death and soon Ellie also finds herself the target of a murderer. Joining forces with the James Hawley, the man who announced to the world that Ellie and her mother were frauds, Ellie and James investigate the final séance that Gloria presided over.
The Other Side of Midnight is another stellar book by Simone St. James, although I did find this one significantly different from her previous books. St. James’ other books focused on more traditional hauntings – barns, houses and mental hospitals. With The Other Side of Midnight the focus is on those that claimed to communicate with ghosts: clairvoyants. This was an awesome change up and I loved it and it’s more action-packed plot.
The setting of 1925, shortly after the end of the war, added a very interesting layer to the examination of psychics. During the post-war era psychics were common, families were looking for some solace after losing their loved ones during the war and many turned to those that claimed they could contact the dead. Many of these mediums were fake, a select few, Ellie, her mother and Gloria, were the real deal (at least in this novel). Unfortunately for Ellie and her mother their successful track record put them on the radar of paranormal investigators. The scrutiny proved to be too much for Ellie’s mother to bear:
Most mediums hoped to convince their marks of their veracity, of course. But the true medium – the one who possesses powers, whether they are recognized or not – must walk away. Otherwise, my mother taught me, we are nothing better than circus acts, trying to create greater and greater feats in front of a disbelieving audience. And where is the peace in that? (p. 55)
After being defrauded Ellie has to make her way as an independent psychic. When she is approached by James, who wants to help her investigate Gloria’s death, Ellie is understandably reluctant to trust the man that ultimately betrayed her. Of course, this tension between Ellie and James is where the romance element comes in to The Other Side of Midnight. Like St. James’ previous novels, mystery and romance are combined wonderfully. The mystery of Gloria’s murder was at the forefront of the novel, but the romance was still well developed and executed.
What I found really different about The Other Side of Midnight was the more action-driven plot rather than one that was driven by investigative work. Because Ellie wasn’t investigating a haunting, I found that there was a very different feel to The Other Side of Midnight as compared to St. James’ other works. This change in pacing was fantastic and I really appreciated the more overt suspense element.
While I liked the romance, mystery, and suspense elements in The Other Side of Midnight what I truly appreciate about this, and all of St. James’ other novels, is how well the post-war era is captured. The years after the First World War are an interesting period to focus on. The world is grieving and that sadness comes across well in The Other Side of Midnight. But this time frame is also interesting because readers are so aware of what happens only so many years later when war breaks out again. Because readers have this awareness of “what happens next” I think the open ending of The Other Side of Midnight works really well. I’m not sure having a traditional, all questions answered, happily ever after would work here since readers are well aware that this happy existence is not going to last. This is the case with all of St. James’ novels. They all give readers closure, but they never leave the characters’ lives set in stone but in a state of transformation. Ellie and James are both at a crossroads in life, they end The Other Side of Midnight moving forward, and readers only see that potential of the future for them. Ultimately, St. James’ strikes the right balance in capturing a historical era that signifies a period of change without disregarding the turmoil on the horizon that contemporary readers are aware of.
The Other Side of Midnight was a satisfying romance, mystery and suspense novel for an author that knows how to convey the disturbing nature of a potential ghostly encounter as well as the sense of the atmosphere in the 1920s. As usual, I highly recommend checking out St. James; all of her ghostly tales are fantastic.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
For another read that focuses on the ability of psychics give Katherine Howe’s House of Velvet and Glass a try. It’s set in the U.S. put deal with many of the same themes of The Other Side of Midnight. The Titanic has sunk, and like those that turned to psychics in The Other Side of Midnight, so do those in Velvet and Glass seeking those who were lost on the Titanic. If you loved the atmosphere of St. James’ works, this will appeal.
For a lighter read, but a more romantic one, try Jenn Bennett’s Bitter Spirits, which follows a psychic medium helping a bootlegger reverse a hex. It’s a fun read, one that I would recommend for those looking for more of an emphasis on romance than there was in The Other Side of Midnight.
For those that liked the post-war atmosphere Sharon Page’s An American Duchess would be an excellent follow-up. It’s filled with a lot of drama but it really showcases the turmoil for those that survived after the war. Read my full review of this one here.