Review: Private Midnight – Kris Saknussemm

“Tomorrow, Rit. I promise.”

He’d been saying that for about as long as I had. We both talked a lot about tomorrow. That’s what too many yesterdays will do to you. Too many lost nights.”  Private Midnight

And so, Birch Ritter comes to the beginning of a journey. The end of a life.

Birch is awake. In the same way all thinkers are awake. He is aware of his failings. He knows he hides from himself. He thinks this awareness somehow atones for past indiscretions, both accidental and deliberate; the accidentally deliberate. Birch likes to take justice out on others. Not as judge. Not as executioner – As fellow sinner. Every time Birch takes a criminal into custody, he judiciously wraps up a piece of himself.

Is that enough?  Is it enough to wish you hadn’t done wrong? Filling your world with those worse than you is more reward than punishment.

As Birch descends into his own Private Midnight, the annoying little voice inside takes hold, gains power, and he is forced to confront that which he always knew.

You recognise the voice. The “you shoulda” voice. The one whispering about long-past childhood imprudence, the one shouting at you in the dark. The voice healing can’t quiet and drink can’t drown. Sink or swim, Descend into oblivion, hate yourself and embrace the nagging, or run run run and try to put it behind you. Whatever our choice in dealing with the voice, Birch  just found out, he’s run out of time.

“I tried to think what it was I was truly hoping for, and I guess it came down to a woman I could actually trust. Not that I would. That really would be insane. But it would’ve been nice to have the damn chance. The fact that she seemed so much like the last person anyone could or should trust somehow gave me a sick kind of optimism. If you knew the things I’d seen, Maybe you’d understand.”  Private Midnight.

So Birch makes a mistake he calls a choice. Or rather a choice makes a mistake of him.

A friend Birch used to trust before he disappeared leaves him a card with a woman’s name and address. Birch didn’t need another woman, and he doesn’t have the time for this; still, he follows the card right away, despite an important investigation of two unusual homicides vying for his attention. Here is a woman, and her card makes her appear desirable; available. Birch has trouble with women. The only thing in the world less powerful than the women in his life is Birch. Despite his freedom, his heterosexuality, his masculinity, Birch is drawn by a complicated combination of a desire to protect and a desire to control every woman he falls for. Where this desire comes from, he can‘t tell, he only believes every man is the same.

When he meets Genevieve, Birch meets the woman he and every man longs for. The ultimate projected male fantasy. Beauty, brains, talent and the self-control to out manoeuvre him.

Oh, and money. She has money.

A man as emotionally fucked up as Birch has been dominating through attentiveness for a long time. He’s a good detective because his sins almost make him clairvoyant. In being able to read himself, he can read others. Birch will allow just enough self-awareness to recognise, not enough to cure.

“That old Four Tops song “working my back to you” played while I made some notes on a cocktail napkin. Over the years I’d have written an encyclopaedia on cocktail napkins – a Bible of private midnights. This was a new page – a whole new chapter.”  Private Midnight

What if you’re right about yourself? What if that critical, nagging voice in your head does understand?

Genevieve describes herself as a ‘philosophical erotic consultant’. Like all women, she uses the promise of sex, but unlike all women, Genevieve is sexually untouchable. Like all women she is beautiful, but unlike all women her beauty doesn’t wane with the accustomed eye. Like all women she is elusive, but unlike all women she doesn’t long to be understood. Genevieve is the extreme version of what we wish women were; in control of their power.

We want women manipulating events and scenes, not in a desperate attempt to be valuable, but because they understand the real power lies in that command and they are the masterful puppeteers to string-clinging men. Deep down men ache and long for the consummate powerful woman. They want to be possessed.

Birch wakes from the nightmare that is his life, into the nightmare he always hoped, and feared would be true. Soon he knows something is happening to him that can’t be explained.

“I woke up to an incendiary sunset; just like the first night I’d gone to Eyrie street. I had a shower with my eyes closed. My new suit was way too big for me. I felt sick with fear and filled with light – younger than I had in years – brimming with rage, hope, sadness, yearning and dread. Before I’d wrestled with myself about going back to see her. Now there was no question. The thought of true intimacy and maybe truth. What else was there left to hang on to?  My shield?  That was gone.”  Private Midnight

Slowly Genevieve reveals she sees everything there is to know about Birch, only she offers insights and perspective he had not previously considered. Or had he? He recognises everything she says, every trick she plays, and every secret she reveals. Genevieve identifies Birch. As well as he can identify himself, and she’s re-interpreting him so deeply it manifests as a reinvention.

But this is Birch Ritter’s world. He decides who is transparent and what resistance is futile. Birch both wants to be seen and doesn’t want to be seen. Ones’ secrets verbalised is, at first a relief. Afterward, there are only consequences. Birch understood his life was a mess, but he still expereinced control. At least he could leave women. At least he had his job. At least he was physically large and intimidating. These material defences are stripped away to reveal the trembling jelly mass that is Birch Ritter and all men. A beautiful woman, a woman he desires, a woman he wants to impress more than anyone else has done this to him and he is left, flailing and pitiful, swimming in his own traces of lost manhood.

“Tell me your state of mind when you met this girl. You said she reminded you of someone. Was there an earlier incident?”

How could I explain to him that my life was only “incidents?” it was the marriages that had been the deviations.

I fell for a hooker. I replied.”  Private Midnight

Private Midnight is the story of a man who crosses over. There is another side – at least we hope there is. Birch Ritter’s noir cop-juiced world is pure fabricated man. Genevieve’s iron-lace intuitive automaton is all woman. In this dark fantasy the ultimate male stereotype meets the ultimate female stereotype with dire and disturbing consequences that shock every reader. You won’t know what happens right through to the thrilling final pages, and yet you will visit your own twisted self, your own version of the collective psyche on every page. You will want to masturbate, to throw the book across the room, to cry, to sweat, and to laugh. Most of all you will want to connect. You will ache in the deepest place inside to be this understood, this recognised, this acutely seen. In short, you will be left aching for yourself.

“And so I can chance form and yet remain intact. Who knows but that you’re on your way to meet me even now. Male or female… an intimacy beyond your imagination. If you can survive the fear of yourself, you may find a window in the mirror. “

Highly recommended and available here.