The Midnight Man may possibly have one of the most eye catching opening chapters I have read this year. “Oblivion is what she craved”, is the first line in this very dark and at times sensual historical romance by Charlotte Mede. This is not a fluffy read, but an angst filled romance over land and by sea with a woman bent on her own destruction, along with those who want to help speed along her pain and suffering. There is also a man who is obsessed with her and wants her for his own her, while at the same time he wants to punish her for the sins of her father.
Lady Helena Hartford is a very rich widow who is a protégée in the art world. She lives and breathes to paint. Her now deceased father sold her quite callously into a titled marriage. When we are introduced to Helena, she is in an opium den, high on the smoke, trying to forget her woes. Helena has quite the reputation at flaunting her nose at society with her shocking pieces of art and her countless lovers. Her husband’s nephew, the Bishop of Sissinghurst wants Helena removed and sent to Bedlam on grounds of immoral insanity, licentiousness and salaciousness. If Helena is considered insane, he will be able to take over her fortune. And if she dies in the asylum, all the better. But as Helena hides away in the haze of opium, she is saved by Nicholas Ramsay. Ramsay also has quite the reputation. He has power and money and is not one to be crossed. He saves Helena for his own purposes. He desires her but wants her to suffer because of what her greedy father did to him when he was a boy.
Helena fights Ramsay tooth and nail and believes he is working for Sissinghurst. Ramsay has his own plans for Helena, which is very selfish and a bit cruel. Ramsay is also the host and benefactor of the X Club, a group of scientific minds that support Charles Darwin’s theories. They need Helena’s artistic abilities to provide evidence to support their cause. Since these bones and fossils Darwin found cannot be transported back to England, Helena will go with Ramsay to the other side of the world, as he says, where Helena will capture their likeness on paper. She will escape the clutches of her nephew and also help a wonderful cause. Helena has no choice but to accept and with that Ramsay will continue to seduce her and speed along her downfall.
Ramsay has some very shady plans for Helena that includes making her his lover on their long journey. He wants her to be overcome with pleasure in the sex act before he proceeds with his punishment. Ramsay has lusted after Helena for years, but his feelings for her are at odds with his final goal, his revenge. Even though he will stick with his plans till the bitter end, he will make sure Helena experiences the heights of passion with him. He wants her to let go, to fall apart in his arms before he rips apart her heart and soul. His plan is to make her fall in love with him and to crave his body. And when she does, his revenge will be complete.
Charlotte Mede has written a dark and at times depressing romance with The Midnight Man. I have to admit this was quite the uncomfortable read because of the tension, fear and lack of trust Helena has for Ramsay, which is understandable if I were in her shoes. Her father treated her like cattle and sold her to the highest bidder, which happened to be her husband. Charlotte doesn’t go into great detail about Helena’s marriage, but from what is told, you can assume her husband was a sexual abusive man who enjoyed hurting his wife both in the physical and spiritual sense. Even though Helena has had lovers, she has never found joy in sex; that is until Ramsay comes along.
Ramsay is a bit of a mystery, never really fully explained. The reader is given some insight on why he is so hell bent on destroying Helena, which includes his callous treatment and attitude towards Helena. I felt this was a bit too much in some ways. Even though their relationship is an uncomfortable and I should say unstable one, The Midnight Man has a nice gothic feel to it. There may be no dark castles or things that go bump in the night to scare the heroine, but there are demons, deep in a person’s soul. The physical demon is Sissinghurst who hides behind his own religion for the things he does. What he has planned for Helena is even worst than what Ramsay has in store for Helena.
Poor Helena cannot get a break, but she is not that typical heroine who will be walked all over. She does try to stand up to Ramsay. Ramsay in turn tries to seduce her every chance he gets, he wants her to understand what a woman’s pleasure is, even though his methods are questionable throughout the whole story. Is there a HEA in their future? Well, this is a romance after all…
The Midnight Man is not a book for everyone and some may question Ramsay’s motives as being very un-hero like. I have to give Charlotte credit for writing a psychological historical thriller that taps deep into the darkness of men’s souls. Helena and Ramsay may not be your ideal couple but I was fascinated by the story Charlotte has penned. Dark and brooding are the best words to describe The Midnight Man and I wouldn’t mind seeing what other future books Charlotte Mede has in store. (Available now from Kensington/Brava)
3 stars out of 5 stars