By Kevin Egan, A Forge Book, published by Tom Doherty Associates, 320 pages, $24.95
Midnight is a thrilling page-turner, part noirish mystery and part cautionary tale. It takes some fundamentally ordinary and decent people, places them in exceptionally difficult and morally challenging circumstances, and lets happenstance and fate play themselves out.
Midnight starts with two employees of a well-respected judge, one his law secretary, Tom, the other his administrative secretary, Carol. The day in question is Dec. 31, with the New Year to begin at midnight. Each has a strong personal loyalty to the judge, each has impeccable credentials. The law secretary is a hard-working, well-educated legal craftsman. The administrative secretary is efficient, experienced and practical. Each faces tremendous personal demands and struggles. The administrative secretary cares for a hearing-impaired child with special needs and a mother with the onset of dementia. The law secretary has a gambling habit. He owes substantial amounts of money to loan sharks.
Both struggle on a daily basis to meet their respective personal and financial obligations. Both have secrets which they are eager to hide. The one positive fact in their lives is that they are employed by a judge who cares deeply for them on a personal and professional level, who gives them job security, a sense of purpose, and a sense of belonging to a close-knit courthouse family in the judge’s chambers. Moreover, there is more than a hint of romance and sexual attraction between the judge’s two staff members.
These two people are suddenly confronted with a fundamental existential fact—the fact of death. But this is no ordinary death. It is the death of their beloved employer, their mentor, their protector. When the judge dies unexpectedly on the morning of Dec. 31, they must confront the reality that their jobs will end at midnight. However, if the judge had lived until the next day, under the customs of the court system, they would be kept on the payroll for the balance of the new year. Thus begins the ethical and practical dilemma they face—advise the court administrators of the judge’s death on Dec. 31, or hide the judge’s demise until the beginning of the new year.
They make a decision which sets in motion a series of events, conflicts and threats that will raise the stakes to the highest level—not just their financial survival but threats to their very lives. Along the way we gain insight into the world of the New York Supreme Court, Civil Division, located at 60 Centre St. We meet dedicated and professional court officers, corrupt, self-interested union officials and attorneys, and a cruel and demanding Mob enforcer. We learn how judicial decisions which must, and should be, the results of careful factual analysis and fairness in applying the law, can be perverted by the self-interested and the corrupt.
What should have been a simple and workable plan—hide the fact of the judge’s death until the new year and thus save their jobs—turns into a noirish hell. Simple decisions lead to complex and tangling relationships and events. The two lead characters, Tom and Carol, find themselves thrown into a nether world of corruption, greed, ambition, betrayal and violence.
This is a book filled with the essential elements of noir fiction: Individuals trapped in dangerous and unexpected situations, not entirely of their own making, fighting to survive in a corrupt and hostile world, recognizing that they have few options and little control over their own fates, and facing the prospects of their own doom. Even the city itself is cast in noirish terms—cold, dark and merciless. Ultimately, the two leading characters must own up to their choices that set them on this treacherous path and seek moral redemption as the story comes to a compelling and crashing finale.
In the style of James Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity,” “Midnight” is a fast-paced, intriguing tale filled with compelling characters with interesting back stories who are facing the unintended consequences of their own bad moral choices. The author, Kevin Egan, a Court Attorney and Clerk in Manhattan Supreme Court, uses his insights into the world of the civil justice system to give us a compelling tale of morality and action. It is a highly entertaining book well worth reading.
Richard Weinberg is an acting Supreme Court justice.