The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain

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The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A who-dunnit story with many twists and turns along the way. It's narrated from various perspectives which gives the story depth and variation.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: December 2009
Publisher: MIRA
ISBN: 978-0778303640

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The story starts properly when a letter is discovered. It will have devastating consequences for several families - and life will never be the same again. Apparently, the wrong person was convicted for a murder. Moreover, the writer of this letter appears to know who did commit this crime. Unfortunately, the writer dies before able to make contact with the police.

The story see-saws back and forth between two key periods - the 1960s when the crime was committed and the present day, around 40 years later. The author chooses various characters to narrate their stories and shows how they were connected to the murder. We are introduced to three young sisters - Julie, Lucy and Isabel - she is subsequently murdered at The Bay At Midnight (hence the title of the book). We are also introduced to the girls' parents and grandparents. Throw in a picturesque beachside location and voila - we have an idyllic scene and a 1960s American summer which seemed to go on for ever.

Isabel's murder is the watershed. It's the end of childhood innocence for both Julie and the younger Lucy. As you'd expect all three sisters have different characters and temperaments. Teenager Isabel (or Izzy as she's affectionately called) was very pretty. She was very much aware of her new-found allure and sexuality. She certainly had no shortage of boyfriends or male attention. Lucy, on the other hand is a timid and fretful child, almost afraid of her own shadow. Julie is the adventurous and spunky one of the trio.

The story that the sisters tell is as intricate as a spider's web. But the most telling fact is that Julie somehow blames herself for Izzy's death. She carries this burden of guilt around her neck like a millstone, for the next 40 odd years. It has a devastating effect on her, on her relationship with her husband and her only daughter, as well as with her sister and her mother. She seems, on the surface, to be living a normal enough life but, you can feel this underlying tension and stress. She becomes quite highly-strung and unable to lead a fulfilled life.

Lucy fairs much better. It's a significant fact that simply because she was too young to remember much of that dreadful night, she escapes its aftermath. Even the memory of Izzy is a bit of a blur.

Even secrets revolving around the lives of the girls' parents forbid any discussion of that fateful night. So feelings grow and fester away under the surface. These destructive feelings and emotions apply to three generations of the same family. Discussion is simply not allowed. It will be far too painful. Many of us have a view that these are the very feelings which need to be discussed.

This novel concentrates on family relationships before and after a tragic event. This particular family chooses to deal with it - by not dealing with it. As the grandmother says to her two daughters Julie and Lucy We were masters at ignoring the elephant in the room. If we pretended it wasn't there, it couldn't hurt us.

But the sudden appearance of this important letter forces them all to deal with it, many decades later.

Diane Chamberlain chooses the 1960s - an innocent era. When the murder happens, it seems all the more horrific. Everyone at the beachside location seems healthy, happy, full of life and promise and with glowing suntans. The scene is set so well with plenty of description that I could almost hear the waves lapping against the golden sands. But all is not well in paradise. Race, bigotry and class divisions all raise their ugly heads at some point in this book. It's small-town America in the 60s when race was a big issue. There's a very telling example of race and segregation when a young, coloured boy ends up wetting his trousers as he's banned from using the nearest toilets.

Following on from this, it's revealing who is imprisoned for Izzy's murder, even although they state their innocence from the very beginning of police questioning.

This book also highlights the fact that problems can keep recurring - even from one generation to the next - if not addressed. Julie's daughter (Shannon) ends up rebelling against her mother's strict house rules in very much the same way Izzy rebelled against her strict mother. It's also interesting to note that in Shannon's case, she tends to confide in her Aunt Lucy. If Izzy had had such a person to confide in, things may have turned out very differently. Is the answer perhaps not to let situations fester?

Chamberlain's writing flows and is conversational in tone which makes this book a very enjoyable read. There are twists and turns aplenty to keep the reader guessing - right up until the end. If you like a good, old-fashioned mystery story, then this book ticks the boxes.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.

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Buy The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain at


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