Gone by Midnight
They left four children safe upstairs.
They came back to three.
On the fifth floor of the White Caps Hotel, four young boys are left alone while their parents dine downstairs.
But when one of the parents checks on the children at midnight, they discover one of them is missing.
The boys swear they stayed in their room. CCTV confirms that none of them left the building. No trace of the child is found.
Now the hunt is on to find him, before it’s too late – and before the search for a boy becomes a search for a body…
Title: Gone by Midnight | Author: Candice Fox | Series: Crimson Lake #3 | Publisher: Century | Pages: 384 | ISBN: 9781529123791 | Publication date: 24th January 2019 | Source: ARC .mobi from Net Galley
For me there are 2 kinds of great mystery novel. There’s the Sherlock Holmes type, where the enigmatic detective gathers clues, retreats to his fortress of solitude and figures it all out, then confronts and defeats the villain. Then there’s the Ed McBain style police procedural, where believable cops methodically hunt down clues and eliminate suspects until only the killer is left.
‘Gone by Midnight’ isn’t either of these things. It occupies instead a kind of muddy, middle ground that’s neither one thing nor the other. The detectives bumble around doing things vaguely related to the case and then have sudden, poorly explained leaps of understanding that allow them to advance the investigation. Reading it straight after one of Agatha Christie’s masterful Poirot mysteries only served to highlight how poorly the investigative elements of the story are handled.
Like a lot of modern books, it starts with an obvious but effective hook. Four young boys are left to entertain themselves in a hotel room while their four sets of parents have dinner together. When the parents go to the room at the end of the night, one of the boys is missing. It’s a scenario likely to set the hearts racing of any potential readers who are parents, and while the similarity to the Madeleine McCann case is obvious it isn’t overplayed in the book.
Detective partners Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell get called in by the mother of the missing boy to help with the investigation. Conkaffey is an ex-cop who has fled to the countryside after being falsely accused of a child murder. Pharrell is a convicted murderer who has served her time. They make an interesting pair, but not as interesting as author Candice Fox thinks they are. She falls into the trap of believing her characters are fascinating and hilarious when really they aren’t. As a result she spends a lot of time writing about them as people rather than about what they’re doing. For me at least, it got tiresome quite quickly.
This is the third book featuring the duo and I’ve not read either of the others. There are clearly some ongoing storylines about them and some other characters which probably had less impact than they would have if I already had two books worth of investment in the cast. That said, Fox does a good job of recapping, so I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on. Sub-plots about the detectives actually take up as much of the book as the main storyline. This isn’t a huge problem, as they are quite entertaining, but I can’t help wondering if the author’s motivation in doing this was partly to cover up the weaknesses in the main plot. There’s always something going on in ‘Gone by Midnight’ but a lot of it felt like misdirection. Every great crime novel needs a great plot at its heart and this one just doesn’t make it anywhere near the top tier. The investigation is sometimes ploddy, sometimes unbelievably intuitive and too often it left me scratching my head in disbelief.
Candice Fox has co-authored some books with super mega ultra author James Paterson and her style reminded me very much of his. It’s almost painfully descriptive, with no detail left out and no room for ambiguity or subtlety at all. Some people obviously like this (hence Paterson’s super mega ultra status) but I find it patronising and slightly dull.
All that sounds really negative but the truth is that, despite its many flaws, I did enjoy the book. It’s extremely readable, the last 20% or so is really gripping and has a couple of great twists, and it’s laugh out loud funny at times. It ended up feeling a lot like an episode of a TV detective show and that might not be a bad analogy for it. The plot, characters and storytelling aren’t strong enough for it to make it to the big screen, but if you happened across it when you were channel hopping and watched it while playing Candy Crush and checking Instagram you wouldn’t be too disappointed.
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