cover image The Midnight Before Christmas

The Midnight Before Christmas

William Bernhardt. Ballantine Books, $14.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-345-42810-3

In a new twist in holiday fare, Bernhardt, better known for his Oklahoma-set courtroom thrillers (Blind Justice; Deadly Justice), fashions a suspenseful tale of domestic violence with a plot-worn spin on the usual villains. On Christmas Eve, Megan McGee, formerly a priest and now a lawyer (since the death of her mother in the Oklahoma City bombing) is handed what seems an open-and-shut case of spousal abuse. A hysterical woman applies for an emergency restraining order against her menacing, drunken ex-husband. Except that Carl, the ex, is a cop, and Bonnie, the attractive wife, is not as victimized as she seems. In a desperate measure, Carl kidnaps their boy, Tommy, and the threats and recriminations roll one after the other. Though Megan, with her ungainly English pug, Jasper, in tow, is an appealing character, Carl and Bonnie, by turns described as hopelessly evil or duped by each other, come off as one-dimensional caricatures of feuding ex-spouses. In fact, it's difficult to believe that folks in a holiday mood will want to read this sour tale of evil manipulation and forced uplift. (Nov.)