Categories and genres drive me crazy. I don’t know how often I have railed against this barbaric practice in my reviews, but I expect that it must be quite a bit. Oh well, once more into the breech…
That brings me to the work of Natasha Mostert, and her novel The Midnight Side. This work, like others I have read by Ms. Mostert, gleefully defy being placed into any easy recognizable genre, which makes them a particular pleasure to read, and review. Some people are bothered because her works cannot be pigeon-holed, but that is one of the things that make them so good.
The Midnight Side is the tale of two cousins, Isa and Alette, who grew up together in South Africa. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that Alette dies, because she does in the books first chapter. Sometime after this she calls up her cousin Isa, from London. Telephone calls from the dead might be a tip-off that this book is a ghost story, but that would be too simple. Ms. Mostert is playing a different game here. Although the basic frame from the story is one of revenge: Alette wants Isa’s help in helping her even the score with her ex-husband, Justin, who she claims made her life a living hell. This she accomplishes with a series of directions left to her cousin in her Will, along with the occasional call from beyond the pale, and appearances in Isa’s dreams For the rest of the book we follow Isa as she carries out Isa’s wishes, sometimes quite reluctantly, as she finds herself discovering more and more about her cousin, her ex-husband, and her friends. There are also a lot of flashbacks, which are well- handled, and show Alette and Isa growing up together in Africa, raised by Alette’s nurse, a Zulu woman named Sienna, who knew more that her fair share or tribal magic. The rest of the tale is a slow and tense game of cat-and-mouse between a small cast of characters.
Now to a lot of people this may sound pretty tame, but one of the things that I most admire about Ms. Mostert is her ability to mix the supernatural with the cutting edge of para-psychological research and science so that it straddles all of these different and disparate disciples. Giving her books a true feeling of realism, without splashing around buckets of gore or revenants and ghosts, Ms. Mostert turns small unsettling details into truly frightening events, and that is one of the things that makes this book special.
When you add in the spot –on characterizations, of Isa, Justin, and the other main players, (even Isa, who is dead), and the taut plotting, you have a special book.
Speaking of the plot; it is terrific, and like many top-notch thrillers, the story revolves around a startling and surprising Twist, which caught me truly by surprise. I wish that I could tell you about it, but it would wreck the house of cards that Ms. Mostert has so carefully sculpted. Let me just say that I felt like I had the rug jerked out from beneath my feet, and I liked it. You can’t really ask for much more than that.