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While Charlene Weir has chosen to tell a story that is somewhat familiar, she's avoided just about every trap. It's a small town story, involving a woman escaping from abuse, and brings in mistaken identity, stalking and fierce weather, and still manages to avoid cliché.
I'm familiar with the issue of domestic violence, but that hardly make me unique. It's like alcoholism, or cancer; too damn common, too few degrees of separation. We all know the stories and the statistics. Some of us have known the victims and survivors. I volunteered at the office of a shelter for about seven years. Those who sought our help came from every walk of life, every class of society.
When Cary Black finally escapes from her abusive husband, she runs as far as she can with help from a friend. Cary has the added burden that her abuser is a cop; cops have connections and access to information that ordinary people don't and it's likely that Cary will never feel safe or be safe. Mitch has sworn that if she ever left him, he'd kill her.
But even if he finds her, Mitch isn't going to be able to use his cop skills to bully his way into Cary's new world. The police chief in the town of Hampstead, Kansas, where Cary lands, is Susan Wren. She's not a pushover, she doesn't automatically assume one side is right and she's seen other women struggle through what Cary is living with. Mitch has met his match.
Weir offers a full story here, of cops and their lives, the daily hassles of being a boss with new employees who screw up, old employees who still don't get that the world includes women bosses now and, oh yeah, Wren's got the flu.
The images of abuse here are wretched, ugly and real. Weir doesn't dwell on it, she just gets your attention to show you how monstrous abusers are in their egocentric world, where it's okay to name call, hit, rape, rage because it's their right, they must control everything. The depiction here is accurate and horrid.
Cary at least is lucky that she has a friend who doesn't ignore the bruises and feeble excuses and stories. That she has a friend who saves her life. But when she arrives in Kansas, things are not all that welcoming and Cary is still at risk. You can sympathize at the same time you're wondering how she got herself in such an untenable situation. But she learns. She has to.
Mitch is portrayed very realistically, flat out. He doesn't seem like a monster, just an oft-frustrated man who doesn't get why his wife just can't do what he wants. Why can't she remember to buy beer? Why can't dinner be on the table every night? Why does she have to spend time with those friends he dislikes, and what's the point of all those books that don't mean anything? He's part of a culture and a common understanding that says that a wife's world should revolve around, should be, her husband. He doesn't understand why that shouldn't be so.
And at one time or another, haven't we all known people who blame all their problems, everything that is wrong on anyone but them? If dinner is cold because he was watching TV, it's her fault. If she wouldn't make him angry, he wouldn't hit her. Why can't she cook something he likes, even when every meal is a reason to complain. It's the job, it's the onions, it's how life is unfair, it's her friends, it's those books with all their ideas and psychology crap. It's never him.
Are there weaknesses in EDGE OF MIDNIGHT? I questioned how neatly things came together at times. I take strong dislike to coincidence as a way to move the plot along and Weir came close several times. I would, however, accept the argument that in a small town, people are more likely to experience accidental meetings, to know things they might not otherwise know, to experience "I was just thinking of you" types of meetings.
I also would argue that at least one side story did not work; there was enough going on that the story of Susan's friendship with an unhappy teenager was not appropriately in the mix. Maybe it was meant to shadow another story, to add dimension. It fell flat and I wish it had been left out. While it did give dimension to Susan Wren, she was in most ways a relatively minor player in this particular story.
This is a very well-told story, even if it doesn't have a brilliant new shiny premise. These are the stories that police live with every day, and that real people have as their history.
Reviewed by Andi Shechter, January 2008
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