I found Charlotte Mede's previous book, Explosive, pretty dreadful; I certainly didn't turn to The Midnight Man with any great expectations but it's actually a very different - and very enjoyable - read. It bears few similarities to Explosive apart from the interweaving of historical facts (in the case of The Midnight Man, the furor over Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and the hunt for the missing link in the fossil record) into a fictional tale. In this story, our heroine is Lady Helena Hartford, widow of a duke and an artist widely considered eccentric, even mad.
Since her husband's death, his nephew, the Bishop of Sissinghurst, has been trying to have Helena sent to Bedlam so he can gain control of her fortune.
Helena finds herself in the company of the mysterious Nicholas Ramsey, a fearsomely rich,
fiercely private man who keeps rescuing her.
He apparently has an ulterior motive: he wants her to come on an expedition with him to Tierra del Fuego to paint various fossil remains that they believe will prove the missing link in Darwin's theory of evolution. However, Nicholas is extremely complex, and he may have more hidden reasons for singling out Helena.
The first part of the book, where Helena has to dodge the Bishop's men who are trying to kidnap her and take her to Bedlam, sometimes drags a little; however the
when she's on the sailing ship bound for Tierra del Fuego, the narrative is interesting and well-paced. Helena is an
impulsive, high-strung character yet also gentle at times and able to understand and empathize with others. Unfortunately, Nicholas remains too remote in this story to really get to know him,
despite parts of the narrative being told from his perspective.
Historical accuracy goes a bit off at times, particularly with regard to the
manner in which the bishop and his deacon are addressed (he's the Bishop of Sissinghurst so can't be the Bishop of London, and his deacon wouldn't be addressed as "Deacon Mosley" but
as "Reverend Mosley" or "Mr Mosley," for example) and where they live (English bishops don't live in manses but usually in palaces).
These errors are pretty standard for this type of books and, although annoying, can be overlooked if the story is good enough - and in this case, it
Mede doesn't turn Nicholas into an emotional wimp once he meets Helena. He continues in his ruthless character, and the love story
is wrapped up suitably yet reasonably convincingly. All in all, The Midnight Man is light-years better than
Mede's previous and a really enjoyable read.