Sexy Texas: Night Shift by Charlaine Harris

Midnight is a tiny village in of Texas at the crossroads of the middle nowhere to even more nowhere. It’s a place that attracts transients and those looking to live under the radar. Like the town of Bon Temps in Charlaine Harris’ other more famous series, Midnight is a quirky country town with a preponderance of magic. A lovelorn witch, an empathetic psychic, a vampire, a pair of fallen angels, a pack of weretigers, a mystical quickie mart manager, and a talking cat all call the town home, not to mention the professional hitwoman, the restaurant owners who aren’t who they claim, and the equally lovelorn pawnshop owner.

In the first two books of the “Midnight, Texas” rural fantasy trilogy, Charlaine Harris explores the deepest, darkest secrets of the townsfolk, and in Night Shift she digs into the evil under the town that drew them there and may end up killing them all. When strangers wander into the crossroads and start killing themselves in increasingly brutal ways, the Midnighters rally together to figure out why. Lemuel acquires help translating the ancient books Bobo found in the shop, and what he discovers offers no good news. A newcomer sparks the locals’ interest, especially since about the same time as his arrival a voice begins talking to Fiji. Turns out the town is built over an imprisoned demon and he wants out. Now. Unfortunately for Fiji, she’s the key to his escape as well as his continued imprisonment.

As bad as the spellwork required to battle the demon is, it’s her collapsing unrequited romance with Bobo that hurts her the most. It’s time for Fiji to take her life into her own hands. Saving the town and finding happiness are up to her, but only if the creeps following Olivia, the threat posed by Teacher and Madonna, and Lemuel’s risky dealmaking don’t get in the way first.

Night Shift is the last book in the “Midnight, Texas” trilogy, although it feels less like a traditional trilogy and more like she just decided she only wanted to write three books on the townsfolk. There’s no real master arc that crosses all three books. Rather, Harris simply reveals the incidents that take place at the little crossroads town over the course of a little more than a year. Olivia’s story is probably the closest thing we have to a three-book arc, though it’s more incidental in the first book and a bit of a stretch by the third. Manfred also gets a bit of development, but he’s mostly sidelined in Night Shift except as a potential albeit unserious love interest to Fiji.

As per the rest of the series, Harris hits the diversity nail hard and often, much to my delight. A range of skin colors, identities, and body types are on full display with no negativity from the good guys. For a plot that revolves around public sex and a promiscuous sister, no one slut-shames (or if they do, they instantly feel guilty about it). Fiji is beautiful not in spite of or because of her weight; she is both beautiful and heavy and neither state affects the other. Let’s hope that if the NBC TV adaptation ever makes it past the greenlight stage, they’ll keep the diversity factor.

The only thing Harris really struggles with is her Native American character. He’s a little too much of the mystical shaman trope who exists mostly to tell the white folks how to battle the final boss. He isn’t anything other than a magic Native American, no personality, no character development, and even the secrets he reveals in his infodumping could’ve easily been uncovered in other ways. But at least he’s there and his depiction isn’t wildly offensive.

Charlaine Harris is very good at what she does even if what she does isn’t very good. No one goes into one of her books expecting high art or powerful literature. When she gets into a narrative rut, she falls back on intensely detailed descriptions of events or locations that have absolutely no relevance to the plot or characters. When the plot gets too twisty to untangle, a random character from the periphery turns up to tell the main characters everything they need to know and what they need to do in order to resolve the problem. Bad things have few consequences and emotional turmoil lasts about as long as a plate of biscuits in front of a hungry teenage weretiger.

As with the previous two entries, Night Shift reads like a third draft. A more stringent editor could reduce the book by a fifth simply by tamping down on the meandering exposition and scenic description. Cutting out her weird insistence on pointless parentheticals could knock it down even more and streamline the story. Because the story is wacky, ya’ll. Immensely wacky, but, like, in a fun way. Midnight Crossroad starts off as a book about a pawnshop owner’s dead girlfriend and turns into a murder conspiracy involving white supremacists. Day Shift is ostensibly about the suspicious circumstances in which one of Manfred’s clients dies and ends up with a pack of weretigers wandering through town and vampires hunting a telepath visiting his grandpappy. Night Shift goes from people and animals killing themselves at the crossroads to a magic sex ritual with a pitstop at a subplot with a hangry Etruscan-literate vampire.

If Midnight Crossroad was Bobo, Manfred, and Fiji’s book and Day Shift Manfred, Joe, and Olivia’s, then Night Shift belongs to Fiji, Bobo, and Lemuel. Well, mostly Fiji, given how everything plays out. The Madonna and Teacher sitch comes to a head and the loose ends from the hotel’s mysterious financial backers are wrapped up in a convenient and not unexpected bow. The last clues about the histories of Lemuel, Joe, Chuy, and the weretigers are fully exposed. But it’s Fiji that undergoes the greatest transformation. Her magic has steadily increased from book to book. Every time she thinks she’s hit the limits of her powers she barrels right past it the next time her friends are in trouble.

And this is what makes Charlaine Harris one of those authors I will never stop reading. The literary merit and technical quality (or lack thereof) in her work is insignificant to her characters. All of them have terrible names—Fiji’s sister is named Waikiki and Day Shift has a man named Barry Bellboy and I can’t even—but Hera help me I love spending time with them. Even the caricature-like villains are enjoyable. The Midnighters are a family. They love each other immediately and protect each other instinctively. Each of them, even Fiji’s cat Mr. Snuggly, feel like real people with real problems and real emotions. Watching Fiji go through her romantic ups and downs with Bobo and Quinn is charming, like checking in on a long-time friend. I could give or take the plot, it’s the characters I like hanging out with.

Night Shift is available now from Ace Books.

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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