Publication Date: November 25, 2014
In The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis, Janie Knox is living a happy life with her partner in Savannah when she discovers that she only has a few months left to live. Time is short and Janie must face the past by returning to Atlanta to tie up the loose ends of the past. Will she reconnect with the sister she abandoned and will she be able to face off with her mother’s killer and do what must be done before time runs out?
The author, Joan C. Curtis, gave me a copy of this novel as an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) in exchange for my review.
There is a feeling of the great southern author, Fannie Flagg, in The Clock Strikes Midnight. Janie is living in Savannah with her partner running a successful business when she gets terrible medical news. The clock is now ticking for her to finish business relating to her mother’s murder and the recent release from prison of her stepfather, the man convicted of killing Janie’s mother.
Janie’s sister, Marlene, stayed in Atlanta after the murder. She married and built friendships and tried very hard not to be the girl who’s suffered such a painful and violent loss. Their mother was lost within herself and while Marlene recognizes the futility, she finds herself incapable of escaping the emotional fate of her mother. It’s hard to forget the past when Marlene’s step-father, an abusive and cruel man, writes her from prison and calls every day once out with only one goal in mind — to find Janie. The Clock Strikes Midnight is a complex story that transcends generations.
In southern fiction, the impact of family is emphasized and building layered and real feeling characters seem to be the niche of Joan Curtis. Janie played a key role in the trial of her stepfather and then she left only keeping in touch with her uncle by marriage letting him know that she was okay. Marlene felt Janie’s absence keenly. The sister that had been her companion when their mother abandoned them favoring alcohol and isolation.
When Janie returns, Marlene is sinking into alcoholism and has separated from her husband. She is at a dangerous point and seems to be hiding from life, as her mother did. As we delve into the tale, we understand that there’s despite the appearance of throwing her daughters to the wolves, there’s something terribly off about Eloise. Curtis beautifully highlights the complexity of relationships when mental illness is a player. She, in a move nothing short of brilliant, introduces us to the mother as a teen.
Eloise’s internal dialogue is fascinating. Her development shows a young girl spiraling out of control. A need for all of the attention but also to be completely alone. When she becomes obsessed with an ex-paramour her family learns the depth of her need for help. Eloise views her older daughter as the creature who ruined her life and the scapegoat for all though does not hesitate to use her daughter when it’s to her advantage.Her desperation to gain her own unfolds in a fascinating way and Curtis frames the progression in a way that real and accomplishes the impossible, inspires sympathy for a thoroughly distasteful character.
For much of the novel, we know that Janie has a secret about her mother’s death. That perhaps she knew more than she ever told the court or her sister. Early on we learn what Marlene knew and never saw the need to say but Janie’s secret is more mysterious and is the driving force behind her return. Curtis’ writing plays well to maintaining the suspense of this long-held secret.
The smooth execution of the well-planned plot line never had me wishing she’d just get to the point. The subplot featuring Ralph Cooper, the husband jailed for murdering his wife, is well written. As life happens and Janie reaches out to Marlene, Ralph and the past lurk between them. At any moment Ralph, his seedy lawyer or her prison sidekick may reach into their lives and turn whatever bond they build upside down.
The setting is very much the American South. This story could not take place anywhere else. Readers may wonder how realistic it would be that characters would live in the same place and marry people in their community. Those people have never been to the south. Family dynasties are built and large cities are small towns to those people whose families have been there for generations. When you move somewhere else there is only one goal, to return one day. That Janie would find the people she needs so easier and that the people looking for her would find her, struck me as very authentic.
I really enjoyed The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan Curtis. It’s a story of the love of children for a parent, loss, dealing with adversity and trying to rise above. It’s a story of how our past frames us and asks the question if we can change our future. The Clock Strikes Midnight is an American drama with a southern flare.
If you like Fannie Flagg, Melissa Foster or Jodi Picoult, read an excerpt and buy The Clock Strikes Midnight by Joan C. Curtis today on