PRIVATE MIDNIGHT by Kris Saknussemm


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A narrative that moves from a noirish hard-boiled detective novel to a fantasy of sexual transformation, an uncomfortable journey for the first-person narrator and for the reader.

Birch Ritter is a detective—cynical and world-weary, of course—whose patter sounds at once fresh and drearily familiar: “It was a hooker, I was pretty sure. It was trouble I was certain”; “She had a laugh like Stevie Nicks on nitrous oxide and a slow burn gotta-get-there bed moan like an ambulance in Friday night rush hour.” Ritter gets involved in two puzzling cases: Real-estate mogul Deems Whitney is found dead in his burnt-out Mercedes, and a man named Mervyn Stoakes has engaged in a spasm of self-castration. One of Ritter’s old partners then mysteriously puts him onto Genevieve, Whitney’s widow, whose grief for her husband’s death might be for show. When Ritter goes to meet her in her old house in a rundown section of town, his life literally changes. She takes off her clothes, blindfolds him and tells him his name is going to be “Sunny.” Ritter is intrigued, bewildered and ultimately frightened by the charismatic and powerful Genevieve, and he keeps going back for more—not for sex but for the powerful draw of her personality and for what she can reveal to him about his past. Ultimately, Ritter/Sunny notices some changes, not just in his personality (crying, for example, starts to become a more normative experience for him) but also in his body. Genevieve is a shape-changer who’s able to reinvent some of the ghostly images from Ritter’s past, including his mother. By the end the word “freakish” doesn’t even begin to describe the events of the novel, which include Ritter’s pet cat being devoured by a giant snake and Genevieve serving up her consort Sophia as “tender meat” in an entrée Ritter unwittingly consumes.

Off-the-wall strange and surreal—and definitely not recommended as a Mother’s Day gift.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59020-176-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2009


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