Book Review: Private Midnight by Kris Saknussemm

Private Midnight by Kris Saknussemm

Private Midnight by Kris Saknussemm

I first came across Kris Saknussemm’s work in The Bizarro Starter Kit (Purple)His contribution was a novella called Sparklewheel, which I described in my review as a “psycho-sexual fever dream.” It’s no surprise, then, that Saknussemm bills his second novel, Private Midnight, as “a pschoerotic noir fairytale.”

Sparklewheel was a sort of picaresque that moved along on based on dream-like logic. Because of that, it was more about imagery and atmosphere than it was about the plot. Private Midnight is more plot-driven and is a more traditional story in comparison. That’s not to say it isn’t still a strange one.

Birch Ritter is a recently divorced police detective who’s not entirely on the up and up. While investigating two particularly unusual suicides suspected to actually be murders, his old partner Jack McInnes hands him a weird business card. The card leads him to what he believes to be a whorehouse, where he meets a mysterious woman named Genevieve. He finds himself smitten with her for reasons he doesn’t entirely understand. When he discovers a connection between Genevieve and the two men whose deaths he was investigating, he decides to look further into who this woman is. Or maybe that’s just his excuse to keep seeing her.

I felt like I was in a holding cell, only it was inside my own head. There was something a little spooky about this babe, normal rich witch sitting room and all. That somehow made it more.

Saknussemm’s writing is full of striking images. What’s amazing is how seamlessly he moves between them as well. Genevieve leads Ritter from the dirty streets of the city to her bizarre house where every room is like a surreal set piece, yet none of it feels out of place. Saknussemm paints pictures that are strange, brutal and vivid with his words.

She let me forward into an area of tall windowed cases. One was crowded with historical weapons–from shining, sharpened throwing stars and ornamental daggers, to handheld crossbows and blowguns. Another displayed exquisite examples of lingerie. There were brassieres that looked like they’d been spun of black icing sugar–corsets and teddies embroidered with topaz and sapphires.

This novel billing itself as “psychoerotic” doesn’t just mean that there is a lot of bizarre erotica in it (although there is), but the psychology of sexuality and eroticism is a major concern in the novel. Ritter is full of guilt and repression as are many other of the people in his life. He even thinks of his anxieties as a ghost (who may be actually be real) that he refers to as El Miedo. Genevieve’s psychic influence over him helps him to confront and overcome his problems, but at the same time he begins to lose his sense of self. Healing isn’t exactly what she has in store for him.

“Oh, Sunny,” she chuckled contemptuously. “I’m just breaking you down to build you up! We know what’s drawn you to me, but that’s what’s drawn me to you. That you have so much to break down–and so much to build with once the last wall collapses.”

I found that some of the twists in the book were pretty predictable, especially the biggest one of what Genevieve ultimately had planned for Ritter. Though I feel that the experience that the novel provided made up for it. I think my biggest problem with the book is the ending. For me, it was a mixture of not providing enough closure, yet not being open-ended enough. It just left me unsatisfied. That’s a vague criticism, but it’s the best way I can think to describe it without going into major spoilers.

Despite some flaws, Private Midnight is an unusual but excellent read. A beautifully written mixture of gritty neo-noir, supernatural horror and bent erotica. I give this a recommendation, and I’ll be picking up more of Saknussemm’s work.

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4c4iIXqDBen Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/

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