Benjamin Stevenson’s second book, Either Side of Midnight again features (former) true-crime documentary-maker Jack Quick which I assumed meant I needed to refamiliarise myself with his character.
Deep diving into our past (mine and Jack’s), ie. reading my review of Greenlight, reminded me I really enjoyed the book and found Jack to be a bit of an enigma. However I also discovered I’d cunningly kept spoilers out of my review. Spoilers that obviously included VITAL information about Jack and the events at the end of that book. (Well, shit!)
Thankfully, Stevenson recaps pretty quickly here and I was reminded that, in Jack, we’re offered a rare insight into a really fragile and complex male character.
Either Side of Midnight
by Benjamin Stevenson
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Crime Fiction
At 9.01 pm, TV presenter Sam Midford delivers the monologue for his popular current affairs show Mr Midnight. He seems nervous and the crew are convinced he’s about to propose to his girlfriend live on air.
Instead, he pulls out a gun and shoots himself in the head.
Sam’s grief-stricken brother Harry is convinced his brother was murdered. But how can that be, when one million viewers witnessed Sam pull the trigger?
Only Jack Quick, a disgraced television producer in the last days of a prison sentence, is desperate enough to take Harry’s money to investigate.
But as Jack starts digging, he finds a mystery more complex than he first assumed. And if he’s not careful, he'll find out first-hand that there’s more than one way to kill someone . . .
As this is the second book in the series, I’ll add some spoilers from number one. Jack’s older brother Liam has been in a coma (permanent vegetative state) since a childhood accident. Jack carries some guilt over the accident and as a result, and possibly because of the way his brother’s life is now sustained, he has an eating disorder.
This book opens as Jack’s nearing the completion of his prison sentence (something I’d forgotten as part of the fallout from the events of the previous book) so there’s actually some reflection of how he managed his disordered eating during the eighteen months he’s spent in jail.
Liam’s home care is expensive which is the only reason Jack takes Harry’s case. There seems to be no question Sam took his own life, but soon Jack finds evidence that suggests Sam was coerced into his action and Jack and Harry set about understanding why. There are ties to the twin’s childhoods and of course Jack cannot help but be reminded of his own relationship with his brother.
There’s an obvious underlying theme here about family relationships and childhood bonds. Harry and Sam were currently estranged though their bond still strong. The same can be said about Jack and Liam. Though now Jack seeks solace in Liam’s silent presence.
Of course there’s a strong stench of guilt as well, reverberating a decade or two later, into bitterness and blame.
Again I love that Stevenson doesn’t shy away from the difficult stuff and that, along with the poignant prose, takes this series up a notch for me.
Obviously this book includes suicide and mental health issues feature strongly.
Similarly, throughout this book Jack and his father Peter are at odds about Liam’s future. Medical staff have recommended ‘withdrawing treatment’ and Peter believes it’s time to let Liam go. But Jack refuses. As someone who’s participated in those conversations with doctors personally I found myself angry at Jack’s selfishness, unable to comprehend how he can think his brother is better sustained by machines. But at the same time Stevenson puts us in Jack’s head so I realise that ‘letting go’ is something he’s not ready to do.
This is another great novel from Stevenson. The ‘whodunit’ element is engaging and underpinned by motives around guilt and blame. There’s also a contemporary feel with legislation attempting to catch up to technology and cyberbullying and stalking. ‘Words can kill’, Jack realises.
And then there’s Jack, his relationship with his father and brother, and with his own demons – past and future.
Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson will be published by Michael Joseph (Penguin Random House) on 1 September 2020.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.