Written by Elisabeth Gail
Content Warning: This book contains strong themes of suicide, EDs, and depression/anxiety.
A gun fires. The studio bursts into hysteria but the cameras still roll. Millions of viewers saw Sam Midford pull the gun from his desk and fire it into his own head, so how can his death be considered a murder?
Either Side of Midnight is a sombre yet compelling crime thriller exploring the tensions and extremes of grief and mental illness. In Benjamin Stevenson’s second Jack Quick novel, Jack is hired by TV presenter Sam Midford’s twin brother Harry to solve his ‘murder’—though no one’s quite convinced it even is one. The book delves deep into characters’ psyches, exploring the dark places grief can lead.
Like any good crime thriller this book was captivating, both through Stevenson’s ability to write suspense and mystery, and through the fascinating subject matter of the crime it explores. Because Sam’s suicide was so public, Jack quickly concludes that the only way it could be considered murder is if he was somehow coerced into killing himself. This is the first crime narrative I’ve read that follows a murder by coercion case, and Stevenson explores it in a very well-grounded way. Throughout the narrative Stevenson includes little snippets from real life examples, finishing the book with a chilling text dialogue between two teenagers from a murder by coercion case in 2014. While it is uncertain throughout most of the book if Sam’s death was orchestrated by someone else, it is disturbingly evident that cases like this do exist. I found this dip into reality made the book more compelling, giving it that haunting edge that often comes with true crime. While the book is completely fictional it feels plausible, which can’t be said for a large portion of crime fiction. There is no overly dramatized villain in Either Side of Midnight—just deeply troubled and flawed people trying to cope with the tragedies and traumas that infest their minds.
One major critique I have is in regard to a scene that broke this beautiful sense of realism that Stevenson built. In one of the last chapters the tone of the book changes to conform with a trope of the genre, which I felt was unnecessary and out of character for those involved. I was so excited to read such a unique crime novel, but the ending just felt wrong—like it was thrown in to fulfill the genre’s ‘need’ for high energy conflict.
While I was disappointed by the ending, it didn’t ruin the rest of the book for me (I’ve simply decided to substitute an alternate ending in my head). The majority of the book was still fantastic. Stevenson writes some great characters, with layers and depth, to vacate his engrossing plot. Emotional masks are stripped back to reveal characters’ inner vulnerabilities, creating great psychological complexity.
Either Side of Midnight captivated me at the beginning and kept me hooked. It’s a thrilling fictional take on a very real crime that seems to be growing in the age of social media. If you are at all interested in crime narratives, this is definitely a book to read. Either Side of Midnight is available in paperback and ebook here.
Elisabeth is a writer and editor from Melbourne currently completing her Honours in creative writing at Deakin University. While she’s keen to read any book thrown (or gently passed) her way, she especially loves reading and writing things that are spooky or funny (or both). In her spare time, you’ll probably find her getting creative with arts and crafts, watching Netflix, or staring off into the distance blankly.