Bert Billington, the renowned theatre impresario who started his career on the variety circuit, is dead at the age of 90, but old age isn’t a factor. Bert has been poisoned with rat poison, and although many people had reason to hate him, it won’t be easy to find his murderer. His widow, Verity, now 75, was once famous in her own right as Verity Malone, the most beautiful show girl and singer on the circuit. She and Bert produced three sons. Seth is a successful actor, and he is Dracula in the movie that Max Mephisto plays Dracula’s father. Son David has taken over the theatre business from Bert, and son Aaron owns a mechanic shop. It seems no one in Bert’s family would benefit greatly from his death, but Aaron suspects his mother Verity might have wanted Bert dead.
When Aaron shares his suspicions with the police, Verity hires Emma’s and Sam’s detective agency to investigate and prove her innocence. Verity prefers to deal with women in both the private and the police investigations, so it is WDC Meg Connally from the Brighton police force who conducts the interviews and develops a rapport with Verity. During the investigation, Emma and Meg become friends, as they share information and often join forces. Bert’s marital infidelities over the years left a trail of heartache and destruction, not to mention offspring, so the fallout from his affairs is a major part of the inquiries. The suspect list for Bert Billington tells a sad and sordid story of a self-indulgent life. Readers might be rooting for the killer to get away with the murder.
The Midnight Hour is by no means a diatribe against the obstructions to women’s independence, but Elly Griffiths does a deft job of showing how women are progressing in spite of the constraints put on them in the 60’s. The women are front and center in The Midnight Hour and demonstrating just how capable they are, dealing with those constraints to become more than the “female” roles society has assigned them. Emma must deal with being the one responsible for child rearing while pursuing a career she is both passionate about and excels at. Ruby is ahead of the curve by being an independent woman of means and success. Sam has had to use the advantage of her first name to get her jobs in journalism and prove she is equal or better than a male reporter. Meg is learning more about expanding her views of her abilities and those of all women. Reading The Feminine Mystique by feminist Betty Friedan is quite a shock to Meg, but it is presenting ideas about the strength and importance of women that will serve her well.
I highly recommend The Midnight Hour as another riveting read by the brilliant Elly Griffiths. I thank NetGalley and Quercus Publishing for an advanced reading copy.