Reviewer:  Paul Burke

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books      30th November 2021

ISBN: 978-1643857527     HB

This is one of the most enjoyable crime anthologies I’ve read in recent years. Midnight Hour is an entertaining collection of mysteries, all with clever twists, some of which are genuinely chilling and none let the side down. All the stories here are written by authors of colour and recognise just how much good writing is out there that deserves a higher profile. That’s certainly something to think about. Equally important this collection stands on the sheer quality of the writing and storytelling.

Lucky 13 by Tracy Clark, for example, is a proper chiller with a creeping sense of anticipation. Early evening New Year’s Eve – Henry Pearse’s is sixty-two and a bit slower these days. There’s a young man in a bomber jacket watching from across the road Henry arrives home, eyeing easy prey. Henry lives in his long dead mother’s house, she never believed in him or understood his particular interests. Henry’s prize possessions are twelve clocks, each the same, lined up together in one room. There’s a knock at the door, it’s bomber jacket. When Henry opens the door the man knocks him to the floor, he wants all the money and valuables in the house. Bomber jacket then makes himself at home but has he bitten off more than he can chew this time. We will have to wait for the Midnight Hour to find out. A subtly played nightmare tale.

Skin by David Heska Wanbli Weiden may be my favourite and is equally chilling as it reflects on man’s inhumanity. It’s themes are identity and the sins of the past. Virgil Wounded Horse is enjoying a coffee on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation when he gets a call from Charlie Leader Charge, the attorney who helped his nephew when he was arrested on false drugs charges. Virgil is used to helping people out where the law fails but he’s more a vigilante than a private eye. Charlie’s request is very strange though. One of his clients wants Virgil to steal an eighteenth century manuscript from a display case at a seminary’s museum in Rapid City. He’s willing to pay $2,000 for the rare book, A History of Christianity. The man is not a collector nor does he want the book for profit, he wants it destroyed. Why? A tale that says a lot about a lack of sensitivity, cultural understanding and common decency.

Nighthawks by Frankie Y Bailey takes place in Eudora, New York, 1949. A woman crashes her car on a quiet road in the dead of night. Injured she walks as far as the diner and is glad the lights are still on. Only Jo walks in on a robbery. When a cop car pulls up outside things could escalate. To stop the gun man flipping Jo agrees to go talk to the cop, he must have seen her car where it ditched by the road. Only while she’s stalling the cop the gunman kills one of the hostages before fleeing. The guy had a mask and gloves but the hostages are convinced he was black, Jo is convinced he was white. Was the murder a panic killing by a robber or was something more sinister going down.

The Search for Eric Garcia by EA Aymer. This is all about the choices a man makes on a hot and humid Virginia night. Emelia said she wanted better than him and he’s angry. He’s sitting in a bar in Alexandria thinking about the man his wife left him for, Eric Garcia. Eric doesn’t show up. The man has two choices:

  1. Have another beer, or
  2. Go looking for Garcia to kill him.

The bar man says he’s had enough to drink so he heads out into the night, it’s option b. Then dead drunk he falls over while relieving himself much to the amusement of two teenagers with phones. Choices again; chase the kids and teach them a lesson or head on to where he knows Eric will be, complete his mission. There’s more to this story than meets the eye and there’s a nice little kicker at the end, poignant and shocking.

Chefs by Faye Snowden is about how to end a marriage. She’s not a classic femme fatale but can she convince Johnnie to kill for her, does she love him? They met at chef school years ago but Oscar got in first, now she’s married to the restauranteur with $500,000 life insurance policy. Of course there’s always divorce but then she signed a pre-nup and won’t get a dime.

Cape May Murders by Tina Kashian. Sona Simonian and Priya Patel are old college roomies now on a mums’ break in Cape May. When Sona wakes in the middle of the night and Priya isn’t in the room so she goes looking for her. She trips over the body at the bottom of the stairs and screams. When the police arrive things seem to be pointing to Priya as the killer. Is someone trying to frame her friend?

There’s plenty to enjoy here, I also liked Midnight Escapade by Jennifer Chow and Murderer’s Feast by HC Chan. This is an absorbing anthology, the stories range wide, they are for the most part clever, and all riff on the witching hour. This collection is superbly edited by Abby L Vandiver whose own contribution The bridge is also a cracker.