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WesternSFA


Night Shift
by Charlaine Harris
Ace, $9.99, 400pp
Published: February 2017

I've been thoroughly enjoying Charlaine Harris's 'Midnight, Texas' series and was both sad and relieved to discover that it's really a trilogy. I'm sad because I want more, but relieved because this third book wraps things up pretty well and we don't need more books to dilute the achievement. Now, I guess I need to see the NBC television series based on the trilogy and named 'Midnight, Texas'. Maybe after I finish up 'True Blood'. (Review of book one here and book two here)

What makes this trilogy special within Harris's prolific bibliography is that it really doesn't have a lead. All Harris's other series have clear leads, from her Lily Bard and Aurora Teagarden cozies to the Harper Connelly supernatural series. Even her Southern Vampire books, with their sprawling cast of characters, are really all about Sookie Stackhouse and that has become reflected on the covers. The first six, at least in their original printings, proclaimed that they're each 'A Southern Vampire Novel', while the last six state instead, 'A Sookie Stackhouse Novel'. While we arrive in Midnight with Manfred Bernardo, the psychic we met in the Harper Connelly books, he's not really the lead and neither is anybody else.

Instead, it revolves around the town of Midnight, TX for reasons that finally become apparent in this final volume in the trilogy. I had wondered, in my review of the first book, 'Midnight Crossroad', if Harris would be able to sustain a series in such a small town, where the corpse of the week would quickly become a rather overt anomaly to the folk who live around Midnight rather than in it. This final book explains rather reasonably why things happen in Midnight and why the strange people who live there were drawn to it in the first place. It's an interesting approach and it makes sense, from a supernatural standpoint.

Manfred is but one of an ensemble cast of strange and wonderful people who have been somehow called to the tiny town of Midnight, TX over the years. There's also Bobo Winthrop, who runs Midnight Pawn; Lemuel Bridger, the vampire who works his night shift; and Lemuel's human girlfriend, Olivia, who kills people for a living. There are angels and weretigers and folk we haven't figured out yet, though we will by the end of this book. And there's Fiji, the local witch.

For a series where we show up with Manfred Bernardo, the first book centered on Bobo and the second book on Olivia, while this third centres on Fiji, whose powers were never as fake as the new age crap that she sells in her store but who finds some real strength here. While she was never my favourite character, I always liked Fiji and I'm happy that she got her moment in the spotlight, even if it turns out to be one that couldn't be any more embarrassing for her.

She's not the only character to find, if not an end, at least the end of a story arc. She has grown consistently throughout the trilogy, just as Olivia has, and there's a lot more about Olivia here too; from perhaps the least explained character in town in the first book, she's become very possibly the most explained in the trilogy. Others haven't grown so much, but we have learned more about them as we went on and their stories helped build the story of their town. Others, like Manfred, play so consistently throughout that he's surely less our avatar and more just the eyes that allow us to see into Midnight.

One of the most defining aspects of this series is how Harris set it up to tie all her series into one shared universe. Manfred came from the Harper Connelly books, while Bobo learned his martial arts from Lily Bard and Quinn the weretiger transferred over from the Sookie Stackhouse novels. There are a number of other connections too and I'm not so au fait with Harris's body of work to assume that I've caught them all. The obvious new connection here comes when Lemuel and Olivia visit a vampire nest in Dallas to trade with Joseph Velasquez for a vampire useful to him because she can read Etruscan. Joseph inherited the nest from Stan, whose followers were massacred by the Fellowship of the Sun in 'Living Dead in Dallas', the second Southern Vampire novel. Joseph's cleaned the place up.

Given the tie-in nature of this trilogy, I wonder if the plot strands left unresolved will come into play in different books not of this series. I realise that Harris has wrapped up many of her series now, but that decision can be easily undone and there's great possibility for standalone novels or even a new series to share this universe. Olivia spends much of her time away from Midnight, so could easily guest in a new series set in Alaska, Australia or Abu Dhabi. Manfred travels too and Diederik, Quinn's son, will surely soon do the same.

If the trilogy is most important for establishing this shared universe, how well does it stand on its own? Well, I'd suggest that it can stand straight and impress. We don't need to understand any of those connections to enjoy either this book or its trilogy. As it is a very deliberate ending, I would recommend that readers start with 'Midnight Crossroad', then follow up with 'Day Shift' and finally 'Night Shift', rather than starting here, but these stories work fine outside the bigger picture. The first is a self-contained novel, the second is a firm expansion and this third is a conclusion. There are story arcs that run through the three and most obvious among them is the story arc of Midnight, TX itself.

And as it has been, sort of, throughout the trilogy, Midnight is clearly the dominant character in this book, even over Fiji. None of its inhabitants are surprised to find that there's something odd about the place but none of them know what it might be. It falls to Lemuel to figure that out, through the collection of books that he's been seeking for decades and are finally found hidden in Midnight Pawn in 'Day Shift'. Whatever it is, and I'm not going to spoil that for you in the slightest, it has a growing power to affect people in town. Some, like Fiji, hear voices. Others act on those voices by walking into the crossroads at the heart of town, as if in trances, and committing suicide. That brings police attention, of course, and there's only so much the townsfolk can do to keep that from becoming too intensive.

No reader of Charlaine Harris will be surprised to discover that her text flows like liquid. I don't know another writer who can write as apparently effortlessly as she can. I'm sure that the words don't just magically transfer from her brain to her page via some spell or curse, but it feels like that's how it must work for her. She wanders through apparently insignificant details as if they mean something and, before long, they do; because, suddenly, we have a three dimensional picture of a character or a building or a town. There are filmmakers who can't do this and they have visuals to play with; Harris just has words.

So, this is it for Midnight unless it isn't. How's that for insight? It's about time I tracked down Harris's standalone novels, which currently number four. When I do, I'll be watching for more connections. ~~ Hal C F Astell

Click here for an alternate review of this title.

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