REVIEW: Harlem After Midnight by Louise Hare
A body falls from a town house window in Harlem, and it looks just like the newest singer at the Apollo…in this evocative, twisting new novel from the author of Miss Aldridge Regrets.
Harlem, 1936: Lena Aldridge grew up in a cramped corner of London, hearing stories of the bright lights of Broadway. She always imagined that when she finally went to New York City, she’d be there with her father. But now he’s dead, and she’s newly arrived and alone, chasing a dream that has quickly dried up. When Will Goodman—the handsome musician she met on the crossing from England—offers for her to stay with his friends in Harlem, she agrees. She has nowhere else to go, and this will give her a chance to get to know Will better and see if she can find any trace of the family she might have remaining.
Will’s friends welcome her with open arms, but just as Lena discovers the stories her father once told her were missing giant pieces of information, she also starts to realize the man she’s falling too fast and too hard for has secrets of his own. And they might just place a target on her back. Especially when she is drawn to the brightest stage in town.
CW – excessive drinking, smoking, mention of past domestic violence, abortion
There are spoilers for “Miss Aldridge Regrets” in this book.
Dear Ms. Hare,
Last year’s book, “Miss Aldridge Regrets,” had some dangerous and twisty turns along with family secrets. I think people who haven’t read that book could read this one with a bit of effort to come up to speed with what has happened to Lena so far BUT, fair warning, eventually most of the twisty turns would be revealed.
(In the first book) Lena grabbed the chance to escape her less than fantastic life in London. Her beloved father, who came to the UK from NYC) was dead from TB and her bestie Maggie was a new widow of a terrible man. On the passage over to NYC, Lena met a pianist who challenged her to sing one evening with his band. Lena knew that Will had realized that she is mixed race. When the ship docked, much more than Lena realizing that the promised job didn’t exist has occurred. (Now) With no job to support her, Will cajoles Lena into staying an extra two weeks – the length of another crossing and return of the Queen Mary – to explore the city. Lena also wants to try and discover anything about her father that she can.
A married couple, friends of Will’s from childhood, happily agree to put Lena up. It seems that most of Harlem knows Will and are interested if not happy that he’s staying a while. Lena meets Will’s step-sister and it’s soon clear that they have had “issues.” Bel’s got a rocky history and a string of bad decisions behind her but perhaps this time things will be different. That is until someone falls out of a third story window at a party with several possible suspects who might want that victim out of the way.
Despite the morally ambiguous characters in the first book, when I finished this one I realized that I liked the first book a bit better. It felt as if it had more heft and immediate impact on Lena. After all, there was a murder running loose on the ship and she could have become a victim. Here Lena was trying to dig up information on her father – which often took a backseat to what was going on in Will and his friend’s and his sister’s lives. The reader gets bits and pieces of what happened in 1909 via the dual-timeline sections and I had pretty much put together what happened by the time All Was Revealed though the icky twist at the end darkened the story some more. Lena learns that when you go digging into the past, you need to be prepared for what you find.
The identity of the falling victim was hidden for most of the book and there was a plethora of possible people it could be. I was pretty sure it wasn’t one person but as the book progressed, I had a good idea of who it was. But why and how had this person ended up on the pavement three stories down kept me reading. Lena met a lot of people in Harlem during her two week stay. Most had known, or known of, each other since childhood. There were lots of eddies and swirling emotions. Frankly some of it got boring. How many women were going to glare at Lena and make overtures at Will before the end of the book?
Lena was also undecided about whether or not she intended to stay or sail back home. Was her new and still tentative relationship with Will enough to keep her in New York City? I’m sorry to say that I never felt on pins and needles about how this would end. And though a few things were mentioned by Lena about how different NYC was from London, I also didn’t get much of a “fish out of water” feel for most of the book. When the truth about what occurred at the party was uncovered, my reaction was “Huh. That was … unexpected” and the aftermath disturbing. I get the feeling that there will be a third book and I’ll probably eventually want to read it if only to see what happens to Lena next but I’m not sure I’ll be in a rush about it. C