A WALK AT MIDNIGHT - by Alex van Tonder

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Published: September 2019 - Pan Macmillan SA. 
Genre: Adult / thriller / contemporary.
Pages: 322.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Strong language / explicit sexual content / violence / rape / abuse / mental illness / suicide.  
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read and reviewed this book. All thoughts are my own. 

Jane Ronson is the epitome of a dutiful, devoted wife and mother. She has, with grit and grace, supported her husband, Colin, through the scandals and setbacks that have dogged his career as the Governor of New York State. After years in her restrictive role as the governor’s wife, Jane achieves her own success as a writer, and is offered a publishing deal for her debut novel. This exciting news is overshadowed by Colin’s sudden death under mysterious circumstances that eerily echo events that unfold in Jane’s novel, making her the primary person of interest in the investigation.

As the police question the Ronson family to try to establish what happened on the night of Colin’s death, it becomes increasingly apparent that everyone is keeping secrets – some to protect Colin, some to protect themselves. All of them to protect the Ronson family name. As Jane’s and Colin’s pasts emerge in the course of the investigation, the truth becomes increasingly elusive and disturbing.

I'm always up for a twisted thriller, especially one that promises messy relationship dynamics. But another reason I was so excited to read this particular book: it's written by a local South African author!

Alex van Tonder writes brilliantly. The chapters are short, the sentences have a strong and powerful rhythm, and the characters' voices are clear and distinct. The prose is tight and dramatic, without giving into melodrama. There's also a dark and unsettling poetry about each line which captivated me.

The story is exceptionally well structured. The police's interviews with the characters after the murder are interspersed in short bursts amidst the trajectory of Jane's life - from when she's a child to the days after her husband's death - and every chapter ends with some tantalising detail, reveal, or twist. It keeps you reading. It's so compelling and disturbing with all the right secrets kept until the perfect moment.

I also love that we start with Jane's childhood and get to see how she grew up and how those events shaped her life thereafter. Every incident and interaction is so thoroughly considered. The way she's raised and what she endures at that age is so integral to her adulthood, and I love how the author mines those experiences to give context and motivation to later parts of Jane's story. It's such a rich novel in the way that it's packed full of backstory, history, and specific incidents. 

  Every story has a beginning, but that's not always where you start off. 

I can't say I love any of the characters, but I certainly appreciate how well they're written. Their personalities are vivid and compelling (whether or not they get much page time) and their dialogue is entertaining and individualistic. Jane is a relatable and well drawn heroine, too, and her character development is excellent.
That's another point I want to make: the novel follows her life from when she's a little girl to when she's a middle-aged woman, and we get to see not only how she changes, but how the people around her change. I love that. The characters evolve - sometimes for good, sometimes for bad - and their circumstances and attitudes change as they go through life. They go through jobs and partners and friendships, each one altering who they are as individual people. I so enjoyed seeing this evolution of their lives.

The book also explores some profound and important issues. Mental illness, abuse, and rape are crucial themes in this story, and the author isn't afraid to deeply examine the effects of trauma on the characters' lives, relationships, and perspectives. As a victim of abuse and rape, Jane's struggle is heartbreaking. It's not always easy to read, but it handled so well. We also get a satisfying ending with regards to her suffering.

A Walk At Midnight is a powerful and impeccably structured thriller, riveting the reader from start to finish and shining a spotlight on important topics such as sexual assault and abuse of power.

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