Laughing with the punches, digging for answers in ‘Midnight Lullaby’
Sometimes, you get caught up in a book for the voice, and other times it’s for the character or the plot. This one was all about the voice. Midnight Lullaby by James D.F. Hannah is about a bitter, quick-to-speak former state trooper named Henry Malone who tries to stay sober and keep whatever life he has in check. His version of it, anyway. Malone takes a cold missing person’s case and opens it up to reveal a large operation taking place in the background. Because sarcasm and nosy people who don’t like rules get things done.
The best crimes and mysteries don’t have happy endings, and this one has a twist of irony in it that doesn’t bite until it’s done. It’s bittersweet, but it’s something you get used to with Henry Malone.
When I do write a review, I point out two to four things that stood out before I say what I liked and didn’t. So, here they are.
Grammar, syntax, dialogue, etc.
Because I’m an editor, I have to address grammar, which was good for the voice of Henry Malone, but I found plenty of errors throughout, many of which can be found by the average reader. Even for me, though, the story made up for it because I had something to hang on to and more than a couple things to laugh at.
The characters reminded me of a combination between small-town ignorance and old mafia-move style language. Two contrasting styles, but the combination of everyone cursing and the talk you’d expect to hear from a small town, as well as almost everyone talking about killing things, it’s the best I came up with. It was fun to read, and my comparison might not be the same as yours, but that’s the best I have. Don’t let my description downplay how fun it is to read. If you like snide remarks and unpleasantly despicable people making less despicable people look pretty good, it’s great.
I loved that Henry Malone was true to his soul. He didn’t care, but he does. He just doesn’t care enough to change, which fits how he talks, acts, and about everything else. He doesn’t practice anything in particular, but he’s a good enough person to tell right from wrong and hold people to it. He is a former trooper, after all.
As Malone changes, so does the story. He doesn’t change, really, but his mind does, and his thoughts make the story what it is. This is unique because many (not most) modern writers focus so much on plot, it’s easy to give the plot the reins and point to the main character and say, “That one.”
Midnight Lullaby isn’t that. Henry controls the story all the way through, and if he were any different, the story would be, too. Nothing is happening to him. He just deserves what he gets. He earns his scars, no doubt. Racism, drugs, runaways, and kidnappings fill the story with plenty of questions, and as nosy as Henry is, he’ll find the answers and knows them before most others think to ask the question.
There’s no such thing as liking Henry for his personality. You like him for his attitude combined with his morals, of which he has few. When I said the book would be different without Malone, I meant that the book would be one star without Henry Malone. Well, maybe. But that’s my guess.
He is everything in this book because even when he can’t get off the ground, he’s making you laugh. He can’t shut his mouth, and you can’t help but appreciate what he has to go through (because some would agree by society standards that he deserves it) but still cheer him on. It’s like a boxing match; you want a winner, but each punch seems to encourage the return blow. The similarity in that is that there’s no real winner, just a satisfied person who got the last hit in and feels better for it. And, yes, there’s a lot of beating up. If you don’t like people getting punched or a bit of blood here and there, this isn’t a good crime book for you.
The other character I liked was Woody. He’s the guy you’d want as a bodyguard, but he’s Malone’s AA sponsor. He knows more about shooting a gun than I do about editing, and there’s little he isn’t willing to do when it comes between discerning right or wrong. He’s the guy you don’t want to get hurt, so he’s a perfect leveler for Malone.
What I liked: Characters, strength of the MC’s role in the story, lack of description where it was unnecessary, realistic dialogue (for the most part), and how the plot came about in the first place. And Henry’s dog, because an absolute jerk would have a wimpy dog bigger than a miniature horse and love it more than his own life.
What I didn’t like: Character dialogue blended in a lot of places and wasn’t very distinct, though the characters did have different personalities. The dialogue just didn’t distinguish them. Not being able to differentiate between what Henry did or didn’t want, but that’s characteristic of an unreliable narrator, which Henry is. And the grammatical errors. That’s always a bummer.
I can’t “take off” for the unreliable narrator; I’m just nosy and like to know, so I never like that. But, it might have changed the tone of the story, which might have made it worse. Because I don’t know that, that is removed from my rating scale on account of the lack of grounds I have to weigh its weight in the story. This is only book one, and it’s more than good enough to read book two.