Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 1 September 2020)
Series: Jack Quick – Book Two
Length: 327 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Following his outstanding 2018 debut, up and coming Australian crime fiction author Benjamin Stevenson returns with an excellent and exciting new novel, Either Side of Midnight.
Sam Midford is a man who seems to have it all. The host of a popular current affairs program, Midnight Tonight, Sam routinely provides fun and insightful jokes to the Australian public. But his latest show is about to deliver something very different for the audience, as a nervous Sam pulls out a gun on live television and shoots himself in the head. The resulting video is seen by millions, and the entirety of the country is shocked by his actions, believing it to be the tragic suicide of a secretly disturbed and haunted individual.
However, there is one person who is convinced that Sam’s death was something very different from suicide: his twin brother, Harry. Harry believes that Sam was murdered, but with incontrovertible evidence of his suicide seen by a multitude of witnesses, how can this possibly be the case? Determined to prove that there is more to his brother’s death, Harry seeks the help of someone who is almost as notorious as his dead brother, disgraced former television producer and true crime documentary maker Jack Quick.
Following the infamous and deadly conclusion to his documentary series, Jack is currently serving time in prison for tampering with evidence in a murder investigation. In the final days of his sentence, Jack is approached by Harry, who believes that he is the only person capable of finding out the real truth behind Sam’s death. In desperate need of money to support his family, Jack reluctantly accepts the case, believing that all he will uncover is proof that Sam committed suicide. However, he soon discovers several inconsistencies in Sam’s death as well as evidence that connects his suicide to that of a young girl in the brothers’ past. Diving deeper, Jack begins to think that there is a sinister killer at work, using subtle and deadly methods to murder their victims. There is more than one way to kill someone, and Jack is about to discover just how dangerous his new obsession is.
Either Side of Midnight is a fantastic and outstanding read from one of the rising stars of Australian fiction, Benjamin Stevenson. Stevenson is a Canberra-born comedian and musician who recently made the jump to crime fiction author with his debut novel, Greenlight (which was subsequently released as Trust Me When I Lie and She Lies in the Vines outside of Australia). Greenlight was a compelling and intriguing novel that followed a guilt-ridden true crime documentary maker who suddenly became convinced that the man his show released from prison was actually guilty. Set amongst the distinctive scenery of Australia’s wine country, Greenlight was a deeply impressive debut that provided the reader with a dark and clever murder mystery. Either Side of Midnight is the sequel to Greenlight and is set 18 months after the events of the first book, with the same protagonist engaging in another sinister investigation.
Either Side of Midnight contains an outstanding story that presents the reader with another captivating and intense investigation told through the eyes of the series’ damaged and dark protagonist. Stevenson has come up with a very clever story for this novel which forces the characters to investigate a murder that appears to be a very public suicide. I really liked this cool plot premise when I first heard about it and I was glad that Stevenson was able to work it into such a captivating and cohesive narrative. The investigation starts off quick and fast and does not slow down throughout the entire book, as the author comes up with some excellent twists and dark turns to throw the reader on an emotional rollercoaster, and I was deeply surprised with the final reveals of this mystery. The entire premise of how the victim is killed is extremely clever and topical, and while I cannot talk about it without spoiling the plot, I felt that Stevenson came up with a great story around it and did a fantastic job tying it into real-world events. I also really enjoyed Either Side of Midnight’s intense and impressive ending, not only because of the eventual reveal of the true perpetrator of the murder was extremely clever and perfectly set up, but also because of the thrilling and deadly confrontation with the protagonist, which includes the villain setting up extraordinarily evil and extremely memorable means of taking Jack out.
Either Side of Midnight also serves as an excellent sequel to Stevenson’s first novel and I felt that the story elements from Greenlight flowed really well into the plot of this second novel. This fantastic mystery can also be easily read as a standalone novel, as the author does a great job of revisiting some of the key plot elements from the previous entry. This ended up being a fantastic read, and I really appreciated the very dark edge that Stevenson gave to the story, which allowed for an extremely compelling and dangerously addictive tale. I do need to point out that this book is probably best avoided by readers who are triggered by mentions of suicide, as there are some rather graphic scenes and discussions, so be warned about that. That being said, I had an amazing time reading this new novel from Stevenson and I ended up powering through this intense story in less than a day.
You cannot talk about Either Side of Midnight without discussing the compellingly damaged main protagonist, Jack Quick, who returns for another harrowing adventure. When we last left Jack, he had been sentenced to two years in prison for manipulating evidence to ensure the success of his true crime documentary. Jack, who was extremely emotionally and mentally strained in the first book, has started to recover somewhat since the events of Greenlight, having finally started to get help with his bulimia and having confessed his darkest secret to his father. But life once again gets substantially complicated for Jack when he is reluctantly drawn back into the triggering world of lies, murder and television production due to his family obligations. I liked Stevenson’s portrayal of Jack in this novel; the events of the first book have made him a little more responsible and compassionate and less of a dick than before. However, he is still a clever and somewhat manipulative person who manages to BS his way towards the truth and proves to be an entertaining protagonist to follow. Stevenson continues to examine Jack’s battle with bulimia, a particularly distinctive character trait for a male crime fiction protagonist, in a realistic manner and I really appreciated the way in which the author dives into the psychology of the disorder. There is also a fantastic continuation of the storyline from the first novel around Jack’s older brother Liam who, after an accident Jack witnessed as a child, has been in a permanent vegetative state. The fate of Liam and the guilt that Jack feels for his condition is a major part of the protagonist’s character arc in Either Side of Midnight, especially as Jack and his father are forced to discuss ending his care, and it proved to be an excellent and touching part of the novel’s plot. I really enjoy Stevenson’s outstanding portrayal of this complex character and the examination of his various battles and issues was an essential part of Either Side of Midnight’s outstanding plot.
While the obvious focus of Either Side of Midnight is Jack, Stevenson has also loaded up his second novel with several other damaged and distinctive characters, each of whom add some intriguing angles to this great story. The most significant of these characters are the Milford twins, Sam and Harry, who serve as the victim and main driving force of the novel respectfully. The Milford twins, also known as the Midnight Twins, are a former comedy duo who split apart several years earlier, when Sam went on to host his television show and Harry vanished into obscurity. The author really dives into the background and psyche of these two characters. Sam was haunted by the guilt over his lost girlfriend, who died while the two twins were trapped on a Ferris wheel. Harry, the younger twin, is filled with regret and sadness over how their partnership ended, and their relationship soured. Both characters ended up being complex and damaged individuals, and their struggles have major impacts on Either Side of Midnight’s narrative. Stevenson did a fantastic job with these characters, and I really appreciated the intriguing storylines that he weaved around them. It was also interesting to see Benjamin Stevenson portray a set of twin comedy entertainers, as he himself is a member of a comedy duo, known as The Stevenson Experience, with his twin brother James. You have to assume that Stevenson used a lot of his own experiences to build up these characters and their comedy routine, and I felt this was a fantastic part of the novel, although I’m going to avoid reading too much into the author killing off one of the twins. I also really enjoyed some of the other damaged characters featured throughout the book, and the protagonist is forced to examine several compelling and tragic backstories to get to the truth of this case. There is a particular focus on loss and the impacts it has on relatives of the deceased that I particularly appreciated, especially as three major characters (Jack, Harry and side character Ryan) each survived a great tragedy that impacted an older sibling. I had an incredible time getting to know the broken and bereaved characters in this novel, and it turned out to be a significant part of this fantastic narrative.
One of the other cool features of this book was the author’s excellent use of the rugged Australian setting, which was also one of the most distinctive features of the first entry in the series. While this book does not spend as much time in the rough countryside as Greenlight did, with most of Either Side of Midnight taking place in urban Sydney, a good part of the plot does take place in a small coastal town. I really liked the parts of the novel set within this small-town environment as it proved to be an isolated and at times dark setting for this excellent mystery. The author did a fantastic job of bringing a distinctively Australian rundown town to life in a way that is very realistic to anyone who has done some travel around coastal Australia, which was really cool to see. I also liked how Stevenson takes the time to examine and parody some elements of wider Australia, particularly its television industry, with the investigation centred on a fictional Australian television network. This fictional network shares a lot in common with some of the real-life television networks here in Australia. Anyone who is familiar with some of the main Australian networks will really appreciate Stevenson’s portrayal of these television stations, as he mirrors the stations’ numerical names, provides notable callouts to some extremely popular shows, and portrays some of bitter rivalries the main commercial networks have with each other. This actually becomes a major part of the plot, and I loved seeing the cynical protagonist navigating the cutthroat rivalries based around a series of soap operas and reality television programs (especially as I am not a big fan of these sort of shows, and they are absolutely saturated in our programming). Overall, I felt that the author provided a very Australian setting which proved to be an amazing backdrop to this excellent novel.
Either Side of Midnight was an exceptional and amazing second novel from Australian author Benjamin Stevenson that comes highly recommended. Stevenson has produced an addictive and dark crime fiction story that sees an excellent protagonist investigate an impossible crime. Featuring great characters, an impressive mystery and a fantastic setting, Either Side of Midnight is an excellent novel that is easily one of my favourite Australian fiction novels of 2020.