Sunday, May 4, 2014

Charlaine Harris moves to Texas in latest mystery, 'Midnight Crossroad'

             In 2013 Charlaine Harris concluded her widely successful Sookie Stackhouse novels, a paranormal mystery series set in the fictional north Louisiana town of Bon Temps. Switching back to a new point of view — that of the residents of small-town Midnight, Texas, and their unusual backstories — she begins a new series. The first book out, “Midnight Crossroad,” doesn’t tell the story first person from a main character, like that of Sookie Stackhouse. Instead, the book begins with the arrival to Midnight of Manfred Bernardo, a psuedo telephone psychic, as he empties his U-haul and a few neighbors lend a helping hand.
            That first chapter sums up the book — and probably those to come. It’s not about Bernardo; he’s the least interesting character in town. “Midnight, Crossing” is an ensemble piece, as if a camera floats above the town, looking in on residents and their strange personalities and careers.
            The story begins with Bernardo becoming acclimated to town and its residents. There’s Bobo his landlord and his two supernatural tenants; Fiji Cavanaugh who operates “The Inquiring Mind” that offers “classes for the curious;” the reserved Rev. Emilio Sheehan who runs the Wedding Chapel and Pet Cemetery; plus several other important characters. All of the residents — Bernardo included — have their secrets and everyone respects that. One is the sudden disappearance of Bobo’s girlfriend, Aubrey, a few weeks back. When Aubrey’s body is discovered by the river, buried truths start rising to the surface.
            Like Harris’s other mysteries, there’s plenty of character set-up, then the mystery begins and concludes at the book’s end. And like her other series, this inaugural “Midnight, Texas” series has lots of loose ends that tease readers to continue on. I know I will. I thought of these colorful characters, particularly Fiji, long after closing the book.
            The murderer and the mystery’s conclusion was a bit startling, totally unexpected and I’m still grimacing. I enjoyed the book, despite that unfortunate plot twist I could have lived without. I also kept wishing for Bernardo’s talents to be utilized (not to mention I wished he had a better name and a personality!), instead of hearing how he sort-of helps people online; he served no more than being a moderate voice of reason. Some threads, such as Fiji’s short flirtation with a bar bouncer, went absolutely nowhere. Overall, I left puzzled at the concept and yet, I will likely read more.
            “Midnight Crossroad” is both a departure from Bon Temps and more of the same, and here’s hoping that plot threads hinted at will develop and Bernardo will come into his own.

            Harris will sign copies of “Midnight Crossroad at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention May 14-17 in New Orleans.

Book events
            Poet Laureate Ava Leavell Haymon
will read and discuss her works following the Writes of Spring High School Awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, at the South Regional Library Meeting Room. This program is funded under a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
            New Orleans author Bill Loehfelm discusses and signs “The Devil in Her Way” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.
            Two films by independent local filmmakers Pat Mire and Connie Castille will be shown for the final session of the film series, “Images of South Louisiana on Film,” at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 11, in Room 112 of Oliver Hall on the UL campus. The series is sponsored by the Friends of the Humanities and the College of Liberal Arts. Mire’s 1990 film “Anything I Catch: The Handfishing Story” explores the tradition of handfishing and Castille explores a disappearing practice in “I Always Do My Collars First,” her 2007 documentary about ironing. Both artists will be present along with discussion leader Dr. Barry Ancelet. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 278-7166.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.