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Review: Either Side Of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson

Either Side Of Midnight 
Benjamin Stevenson
Penguin Random House AUS
2020, 336p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

An electrifying thriller with a mind-bending premise: One million viewers witness a popular TV presenter commit suicide live on air – yet his twin brother is convinced it was murder.

How can it be murder when the victim pulled the trigger?

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 . . .

I have to admit, it took me about 35p to realise that this is actually a follow on from Greenlight, Benjamin Stevenson’s novel from 2018. In my defence, reading that was some 450 books ago but when Jack was released from jail, I suddenly remembered why he was there in the first place.

Before his release, Jack is visited by Harry Midford, twin of Sam Midford, a television presenter who killed himself live on air in front of thousands of viewers. Harry is convinced that there is more to this than a simple, if gruesomely public suicide and he knows that Jack might just be one of the few people out there who would believe in something this unusual. Jack has made a name for himself with his podcast digging into cold cases, seeing things that other people miss. And even though Jack thinks that it was most likely just a suicide, Harry is offering money and money is something Jack needs quite a bit of. So he agrees to look into it, stipulating that he still gets paid even if his investigation turns up nothing suspicious.

I found the idea of this a good hook – a presenter doing something so graphic live on air. The production staff expected him to propose to his girlfriend, not pull out a gun and shoot himself. There seems to be little motivation for such an act, although as Harry digs deeper, he discovers that ‘Mr Midnight’ had his demons. Harry is full of half truths and occasionally withheld information as he seeks to find an answer to the question of what his brother was thinking, why he did it and whether or not there was an outside influence.

This book hinges a lot on the power of words. As we all know, words can be incredibly damaging, even more so sometimes, than a physical injury. The impact left by words can linger, fester and become something that cannot be ignored. There have been several real life cases where people have used communication devices or social media as a way of bullying or coercing or encouraging someone into doing something that they perhaps, didn’t want to do or were confused about and needed help, rather than be told to go ahead and do it. We’re all taught as kids, sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me however it’s obvious pretty much right away that isn’t true. And when I went to school, people had to bully you to your face but with the rise of social media, that’s no longer necessary. People can use many different ways and means to intimidate, bully and even coerce people. And if that was the case here, then the immediate question would be why? And what was so powerful that it was able to be used as a weapon against Sam?

The further I got into this, the more I remembered about Jack – the situation with his brother, his relationship with his father and his mental illness. Although this probably could be read stand alone, I think it’s best read after Greenlight to understand Jack’s relationship with Liam, with his father, with guilt, with survival, with himself, with other things as well. In this book, Jack’s father wants Jack’s help to make a very difficult decision. Jack’s first reaction to it is a knee-jerk – he won’t consider it, won’t hear of it, uses strong language for what he thinks it is. And I can understand that, in a way. Jack and his father have spent a very long time in a kind of limbo and I think Jack’s father is tired. He wants to be in a position where they can maybe move on and the way things are but Jack isn’t ready yet and even raising the question has the potential to really set him back. Jack has a lot of emotional baggage but he has an excellent head for investigation and sniffing out things that don’t add up. Even though he goes into this believing that there’s probably nothing really sinister going on and Harry just doesn’t want to believe his brother chose to do what he did, it doesn’t take long for him to realise that there are some things that aren’t adding up.

I enjoyed this but I did feel like it dragged a bit in the beginning and then felt quite rushed at the end and perhaps some of that rushed feeling at the end is because of Jack’s troubled thoughts, which give the narrative a truncated, disjointed sort of feeling. I think a lot of this hinged on some big reveals and they didn’t really have the impact on me that I would’ve liked. I enjoyed Jack, he brings a lot to the story and he carries it well but I found myself growing less and less interested in what happened to Sam and why he did what he did, the further I got into the book. And when everything was revealed, I felt a bit so-so about it. However if Benjamin Stevenson writes another book with Jack, I would definitely read it because I’m invested in him and his family.


Book #189 of 2020


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Review: Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson

Benjamin Stevenson
Penguin Random House AUS
2018, 359p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Four years ago Eliza Dacey was brutally murdered.
Within hours, her killer was caught.
Wasn’t he?

So reads the opening titles of Jack Quick’s new true-crime documentary.

A skilled producer, Jack knows that the bigger the conspiracy, the higher the ratings. Curtis Wade, convicted of Eliza’s murder on circumstantial evidence and victim of a biased police force, is the perfect subject. Millions of viewers agree.

Just before the finale, Jack uncovers a minor detail that may prove Curtis guilty after all. Convinced it will ruin his show, Jack disposes of the evidence and delivers the finale unedited: proposing that Curtis is innocent.

But when Curtis is released, and a new victim is found bearing horrifying similarities to the original murder, Jack realises that he may have helped a guilty man out of jail. And, as the only one who knows the real evidence of the case, he is the only one who can send him back …

Crime doco-dramas are becoming so popular – Making A Murderer, The Staircase etc. TV is such a powerful way of telling a story and it’s an easy way to tell a part of a story. In this book, Jack Quick is a producer who made a television series surrounding the murder of grape picker Eliza Dacey and the arrest and conviction of Curtis Wade. Jack’s television series is so powerful, is edited together so well that it actually sets in motion the events that quash Curtis’ conviction, making him a free man. Jack is inundated with letters from prisoners all proclaiming their innocence, wanting to star in his next production and tell their story. But Jack can’t think about another series when this story isn’t over yet. Not long after Curtis is released from prison, another victim with ties to him is found murdered in a way that mirrors the first killing. Is it a copycat? Is someone trying to make sure that Curtis goes back to jail? Or has Jack’s television show set free a cold blooded killer to continue his work?

I found this really interesting – especially the role that the media plays in influencing public opinion and the power of that public opinion. There’s always more than one way to tell a story and Jack admits to himself more than once that the way he’s edited episodes of his show are to tell the ‘best’ story. And by that he means the most interesting or the most controversial or the one that makes the local cops look incompetent. Not the one that’s the most true with the evidence and information that he has. The murder occurs in wine country, up in the Hunter Valley where the locals aren’t really used to such crime. There were some procedural issues certainly and fingers pointed very quickly at Curtis Wade with perhaps only flimsy evidence. Curtis was a newcomer in this tight, rural community. He was ‘new money’, considered tacky and brash, the distinction often made between him and them in the town.

After the second murder, Jack goes back to the scene of the original crime, searching for answers. He finds himself not particularly welcome but he persists. The longer he stays, the more he uncovers and these seemingly innocuous things lead to more and more information about the original murder, which allows Jack to finally begin to put the pieces together. You can’t fault his dedication – Jack has some very guilty thoughts about his television show and what it has potentially done in terms of Curtis Wade. Guilt is something Jack does quite well and he’s had a lot of practice, it seems. He’s a very complex person with some deep seated issues, including one that I don’t often read about in fiction and definitely not in adult men. I don’t want to spoil it but it felt very well done and also very well explained, when the reason for why Jack was a victim to what he was, came out. His conversations with his brother were very powerful for many different reasons – he uses them to pick through his thoughts, to play devil’s advocate, to rebound ideas. It’s an important part of his process, for reasons that their father cannot quite seem to grasp but he facilitates it nonetheless. Jack has seemed like a supporting character in much of his life – a younger brother trailing behind, a victim of an illness he has to fight every single moment to gain control over. In his role as producer, he’s not the star…..but he’s definitely the one with the control, picking and choosing what gets edited together to tell a story. It’s not a role he wears well and even in his determination to get to the truth, he seems more sidekick than hero.

I think this book did a great job of keeping the reader guessing about a lot of things – was Curtis the original killer? Was he the killer of the second victim? If not, who did kill that person and why? Was he framed for the original murder? The narrative swerves in quite a few different directions over the course of the story and there were times when I changed my mind on what I thought the endgame would turn out to be only to backflip pages later. The suspense was nicely built and I think the ending was a bit of a masterpiece. A lot happened that I did not expect, which was good. And funnily enough, I think this would actually make a great TV series.


Book #164 of 2018

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