Mass Market Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: Medallion Press (March 1, 2009)
Rachael Penrose is confined to Bedlam insane asylum in London after discovering that her uncle Victor plans to kill her brother in order to inherit the family fortune. Victor, with a gang of criminals, uses French privateer Sebastien Falconer as the scapegoat for his crimes. When Victor spreads the lie that Rachael informed on Falconer’s smuggling activities, Falconer vows revenge on the girl. Gripping suspense and romance play out in front of numerous historical details, including a violent storm that devastated England in 1703 and swept the Eddystone Lighthouse into the sea.
When Rachael Penrose desperately wants to save her baby brother James from the vicious plans of her uncle, Victor Brightmore, she is admitted to a mental hospital to prevent her meddling ways. When she barely escapes the cruelty of Bethlehem Hospital’s doctor she falls in the hand of privateer and smuggler, Sebastién Falconer. He believes her to be the one who betrayed him with the Customs and thereby costing him his crew and ship along with its cargo.
Now they have to find out the truth surrounding the events that took place at Prussia Cove…
Lisa Marie Wilkinson with her debut novel Fire At Midnight enamored me with the theatric backdrop of life along the coast of Cornwall. Where privateers, smugglers, wreckers and fairtraders made their business and where the Customs employees had their work cut out for them. Intertwined with this was the occurrence of a devastating storm which is based on historic facts and it added another suspenseful note to this tale.
Rachael Penrose is at the mercy of her uncle since her parents died. All Victor Brightmore wants is their inheritance, and sooner rather than later. She is a young woman with a resourceful mind but also at the leniency of men and their plotting ways. If there is one thing that can be said of her is that she isn’t a quitter. Rachael is head strong and determined to see her baby brother safe along with his heritance.
Frenchmen privateer and smuggler Sebastién Falconer is ruled by his anger for everything English. Abandoned by his mother as she fled to England with his twin brother he was raised by his grandfather back in France. Wrongfully accused he lost his crew and ship and is bent on revenge. Sebastién is cultured yet he has the demeanor of an incorrigible rogue and is unapologetic for his behavior as he has the natural arrogance of a Frenchman.
From almost the moment these two leading character met their dialogue was brisk, bordering on sometimes being crude. It was laced with a fiery note and I was preparing myself for a heated battle between the genders. Though I did get an animated conflict I am somewhat ambiguous about the romance in this story. The attraction was obvious but in the early stages of their relationship they first had a verbal clash and a second later Rachael lost her virginity. This happened in what felt like a blink of an eye and missed the dramatic impact with me. Like it was almost casually shoved in between sequences and holding a matter of fact essence to it.
Over the course of the story they bicker and fight, then there was a romantic scenario again and suddenly Rachael came to the realization she was in love with Sebastién. Their magnetism simmered but the progress of their romantic feelings wasn’t agreeable to me. Nevertheless, in the end they made up for some of my earlier worries of me not being able to have some form of connection with them as a romance couple. With the final chapters my heart was stirred by the romantic conclusion of Fire At Midnight, content with leaving Sebastién and Rachael right where they were.
What did appeal to me were the plot and the backdrop of the era in a world of Customs and privateers. At the core it was about twin brothers who hated each other for their own reasons. One was a French privateer and smuggler, the other English revenue officer at the Customs office. In the first few chapters many players were introduced and tidbits of the whole revealed. The reader held all the knowledge while the characters had to discover it all and this kept me on the edge of my seat. Waiting for the key players to discover who did what and was responsible for certain events. Much revolves around the twin brother Sebastién and Jacques and the business of smuggling. Now, there is a difference between smugglers and wreckers and the intrigue in this story stems from this fact. The whodunit factor is what captivated me in this novel from the first pages and what kept me going.
The cast of secondary cast is vivid and colorful with a few leaping from the pages. One who endeared me was the young Tarry Morgan who was a childhood friend of Rachael, he is a chivalrous man but seemed to draw the short string every time. Henry Winstanley is the inventor of many contraptions and though not overly active in the plot he held certain significance to the plot and overall story. Mrs. Faraday, the housekeeper of Sebastién, contributed to with her own wisdom and interpretations of events. And well, Victor Brightmore and Jacques Falconer were the opposing side. They both evoked an intense dislike of their scheming ways but were vital for the story and the sense of justice being done.
Certain elements in Fire At Midnight like beguiling characterization, the setting and era definitely appealed to me but it was the romance that could not quite grasp me in its entirety. Lisa Marie Wilkinson does have a graceful writing style that adds a true feel to the early days of the 18th century. The backdrop was a welcome change of scenery with a plot that gave Rachael and Sebastién an intriguing story to tell. Upon closing the book I felt that this is a debut novel that contains a promise for further novels!
“If he died, her soul would wither and die, and what remained would be brittle hell.”