Midnight is the Darkest Hour
reviewed by Carolyn Scott
Winstead’s tale set in the small, god-fearing town of Bottom Springs, Louisiana is darkly gothic. Over the town lords Pastor James Cornier, a born-again fundamentalist Christian of Holy Fire Born Again Church. The Church has grown bigger and richer over time and now the pastor’s all encompassing power holds everyone in its thrall, even the Sheriff and his deputies.
Ruth Cornier, the pastor’s daughter only survives by living a life in the shadows, toeing the line as the quiet, godly daughter, but leads an inner life through her love of books and reading. As a young teenager, she found and stole a copy of ‘Twilight’ banned from the Library, she became obsessed with Edward and dreamt of meeting a man just like him who would take her away from Bottom Springs. After finishing school, her father barred her from leaving home to attend college, stating ‘these places are Sodom incarnate’ and that the Bible teaches her everything she needs to know about self control, making a home for a husband and children and submitting to God’s will. Trapped in the town, she retreats to the only place she feels safe, becoming a librarian, but now in her twenties is now feeling the pressure of expectation to marry and bear children.
Ruth is not the only misfit in town lying low. Everett Duncan, the boy they call the Devil’s son, is the son of the outcast town drunk who is suspected of dabbling in witchcraft. Beaten by his father and reviled by all, Everett has survived only by hunting small creatures in the swamps he has come to feel at home in. Despite the town’s overt godliness, tales abound of a creature trapped in the deepest darkest swamps called the Low Man. Said to wake every few years, he searches for those with the most wickedness hidden inside and in a vampiric frenzy devours their souls.
Everett and Ruth became friends the night he rescued her in the swamp, when she was seventeen and in danger. The dark deed they committed that night has remained a secret between them, but one they are afraid will one day be revealed. Their shared love of books and poetry is what binds them and keeps their friendship growing, even after Everett leaves town, returning only in the summers to visit Ruth. Everett has always moved below the town radar, learning the many secrets and deeds of its inhabitants. Ruth also observed the strange behaviour of her father and his friends during her childhood without realising what it was they were doing. Between them Ruth and Everett they have the means to expose the hypocrisy and evil that has enveloped the town.
This deliciously dark tale is one of power and corruption, secret cults and ancient myths. It has atmosphere in spades, with the dark creepy swamp, ancient legends and hints of a witchcraft like cult. The novel is a slow burning tinder box of fear and tension waiting to explode and explode it does in a detonation that will be felt by all. It’s also a tender but heart-rending love story with an ending that will take your breath away.
With thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark via Netgalley for a copy to read.
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