Charlaine Harris Rules the Dark Again in Night Shift
As someone who spent every May eagerly anticipating the latest adventure of Sookie Stackhouse, for me there’s no doubt that Charlaine Harris has built something in many ways superior to her most famous work. The Midnight, Texas novels, now in their third installment with Night Shift, are truly unique even in a genre where odd goings-on in the dark are as normal as a trip to the grocery store.
Night Shift is big on reveals, mostly centered around exploring the back stories of the diverse town full of vampires, psychics and other weirdoes, as well as the town itself. The thing that sets this series apart from a lot of other series is the amazing focus on building truly ensemble stories. Sure, Lem the vampire and Manfred take a lot of the stage, but it’s astounding how diverse yet connected the storytelling points of view come.
In most ensemble vehicles, you have your token weirdo. Like, imagine if every one of the main characters from Friends were Phoebe, or if every clone on Orphan Black were Helena. In Midnight, every single person you meet, right down to the talking cat, would on his or her own be the stand-out person deserving of his own book series in his own regard.
More than that is the hypnotic way that Harris manages to make Midnight a character in and of itself. Though the series moves comfortably along in the style of Buffy, Twin Peaks and even in some ways Welcome to Night Vale, it’s much closer to the town mythologies perfected by Stephen King in books like It and Salem’s Lot. Night Shift primarily concerns itself with delving deep into the mystery of why so many extraordinary things happen there, and how its residents plan to take up arms against that mystery.
One of the other remarkable things is how Harris manages to incorporate her larger mythos effortlessly without ever sacrificing the bleaker, more surrealist tone that makes this series special. To date myself, there was once a crossover between Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, a two-part story in which the cast of Boston Legal first showed up on Ally McBeal with its songs and hyper-realistic visuals, and the second part, in which the places were switched and McBeal and co. were portrayed with a much more serious tone.
That’s how it feels when a character like Quinn from the Sookie books pays a visit. It’s definitely the same Quinn from the Sookie books, but you view him through a different lens in a way that is seamless and compelling, and it’s testament to Harris’s skill as a master world builder.
My only complaint about the book, easily the best of the three so far, was that it does such a nice job tying up loose ends from the first and especially the second, it had me worried that there wasn’t going to be another one. Knowing Harris, though, things are just getting started.
If you’ve been holding out delving into the Midnight series, it’s time to stop dilly-dallying around and jump in. It kept me turning pages long after it was wise to be alone in the dark with the strange mysteries that it brought to light.
Night Shift is available now.
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