cover image The Midnight Cool

The Midnight Cool

Lydia Peelle. Harper, $26.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-247546-6

In this satisfying debut novel, Billy Monday, an Irish immigrant, and Charles McLaughlin, his young, orphaned accomplice, are small-time con artists who end up in Richfield, Tenn. The year is 1916 and war fever is mounting in the U.S. The two begin buying and selling mules to be used by the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, but they are themselves taken when they buy a mare from local bigwig Leland Hatcher that turns out to be a killer. Further complicating matters is Hatcher’s daughter, Catherine, with whom Charles promptly falls in love, finding himself out of his depth in her elite social world. Footloose Charles decides to buy some land and put down roots in Richfield, hoping to impress Catherine and her father. These chapters are interspersed with flashbacks of new immigrant Billy’s relationship with a young woman named Maura. America’s entry into World War I and Charles’s relationship with Catherine impel the young man to make a fateful decision that will have consequences for all concerned. Reading like a cross between Faulkner’s “Spotted Horses” and Fitzgerald’s “The Last of the Belles,” this novel is filled with nearly melodramatic situations that are rescued by the intelligence of the writing and the acuity of the characterizations, on the way to its bittersweet denouement. (Jan.)