ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – The Midnight News by Jo Baker
The Midnight News by Jo Baker is published today by Phoenix Books in hardcover, ebook and audiobook. My thanks to Leanne Oliver for the proof copy. Happy publication day to the author!
It is 1940 and twenty-year-old Charlotte Richmond watches from her attic window as enemy planes fly over London. Still grieving her beloved brother who never returned from France, she is working hard to keep her own little life ticking over: holding down a dull typist job at the Ministry of Information, sharing gin and confidences with her best friend Elena, and dodging her difficult father. She has good reason to keep her head down and stay out of trouble. She knows what happens when she makes a nuisance of herself.
On her way to work she often sees the boy who feeds the birds – a source of unexpected joy amidst the rubble of the Blitz. But every day brings new scenes of devastation, and after yet another heartbreaking loss Charlotte has an uncanny sense of foreboding. Someone is stalking the darkness, targeting her friends. And now he is following her.
She no longer knows who to trust. She can’t even trust herself. She knows this; her family have told so her often enough. As grief and suspicion consume her, Charlotte’s nerves become increasingly frayed, and soon her very freedom is under threat . . .
Riveting and deeply moving, The Midnight News is a tour de force from Sunday Times bestselling author Jo Baker – a breathtaking story of friendship, love and war.
The Midnight News is a book set during wartime that felt really fresh and different. I’ve read some of Jo Baker’s books before and I think this one is my favourite so far.
Charlotte Richmond is living a fairly ordinary life as a typist, living in rented digs in London in 1940. The war has already touched her with the loss of her beloved brother and more loss is on the way. Charlotte starts to feel that something isn’t right about what’s happening to the people she loves and she is stricken by the sense that the key to it all is her. What’s so interesting about Charlotte is that she’s unreliable. The reader knows there’s a background that suggests this, and all the way through it’s unclear whether Charlotte is paranoid in the midst of her grief or actually right on the money. Jo Baker sends us up and down dark alleys in pursuit of the truth.
I loved the characters in this book. Charlotte’s landlady who boils everything, and the other lodger, Mr Gibbons, are portrayed so brilliantly that I could see them in my mind’s eye, waiting out the air raids together in the basement kitchen. Tom, the boy who feeds the birds, is a simply wonderful creation, and Charlotte herself is a plucky fighter against known and unknown foes, not least the bombers in the sky above her attic window.
I became thoroughly engrossed in this story. It’s immersive with a plot that pulled me in until I not only needed to know how it ended, but also didn’t want to leave the characters behind. It’s rather a sad tale at times of how little control women had over their own lives which made me especially root for Charlotte. The Midnight News is an excellent evocation of war and the home front from a different angle, part crime, part psychological thriller, part a study of love and loss. I thought it was beautifully written and observed, and steeped in atmosphere.