The review reversal (and earning the praise “surreal”)

As a former pop culture business, I know that reviews are a peculiar business. Do you want the critic to be an expert, with a historical sweep and/or an insider view of the guts in the machinery? Or do you want an “everyman” who represents the common view with little more aspiration than to fleeting enjoyment?

Naturally there’s a spectrum and my own take on film reviews was to place the work in the appropriate genre and judge accordingly and still pay attention to the cultural resonance of that same work: I for one am not a fan of genocide as mass entertainment, which has been an unfortunate development in superhero and space epics (like entire planets destroyed in a blink without the commensurate warning. Without having experienced space warfare, I would wager to say that the destruction of entire planets do not contribute to any feel-good ending).

Then what’s it like on the other side, to be a recipient of reviewers “common” and “professional”? I see MIDNIGHT HOUR as a historic entry in a publishing industry continually challenged by representation at all levels, from authors to marketing to executives, so the reviews are less important than its very existence. That said, I confess it’s nice when the New York Times takes a moment in a crime fiction round-up to include a shout-out:

MIDNIGHT HOUR (Crooked Lane, 321 pp., paper, $16.99), edited by Abby L. Vandiver (previously reviewed here under her pseudonym, Abby Collette), presents 20 stories by authors of color. “They are voices that will linger long in your mind. Take up residency in your soul. Add a new, extra dimension to your peripheral vision and continue to walk just beneath the surface of your skin,” Stephen Mack Jones writes in his introduction.

The stories, by the likes of Tracy Clark, Raquel V. Reyes and David Heska Wanbli Weiden, reflect the breadth and depth of talent among this crime-writing cohort.

There are more hits than misses. Two stories stand out in particular: Faye Snowden’s “Chefs,” which evokes James M. Cain’s tone and Stanley Ellin’s fiendish mind; and “The Search for Eric Garcia,” by E.A. Aymar, equal parts formally inventive and emotionally devastating. Vandiver has assembled a group of writers whose careers I will eagerly follow.

Sarah Weinman, “Tales That Linger in Your Mind and Take up Residency in Your Soul,” New York Times, Nov. 12, 2021

My favorite is the one adjective that I hoped would be applied to my contribution, and it came from the New York Journal of Books

Midnight Hour operates from a stimulating conceit: an anthology of 20 crime stories, all taking place at midnight, all written by writers of color. Editor Abby L. Vandiver has assembled a wide range of styles and moods, ranging from near farce to blackest noir, and although the results are hit-and-miss, the freshness of the concept remains intriguing throughout…

… Most memorable are the entries that defy easy genre classification. Elizabeth Wilkerson’s “Change of Plans” might be set in Tokyo, but the locale is incidental to the story’s dark comedy, as an obsessive-compulsive protagonist struggles to get her planner book updated before midnight rings in the new year, with disastrous consequences. E. A. Aymur’s “The Search for Eric Garcia” ventures into more existential territory as the search for an adulterer turns inward and reflects back on the pursuer. Most surreal of all is H. C. Chan’s “Murderer’s Feast,” in which a venial tech entrepreneur invites a group of people who he’s wronged to a bloody week of hunting, humiliation, and carnage, as personal viciousness intermixes with visceral violence.

Ho Lin is an author, musician, and filmmaker, and the co-editor of the literary journal Caveat Lector ( His publishing credits include work in Pulp magazine, Your Impossible Voice, and Foreword Reviews.

And other kudos:

Publishers’ Weekly:

In this wonderful all-original anthology, Vandiver (the Romaine Wilder series) showcases 20 mystery and suspense stories written by people of color, each with a pivotal moment set at midnight… Each contributor offers a surprising and original take on the mystery genre. Full of varied voices, this volume is must reading for mystery aficionados.


An excellent collection of stories told from many different viewpoints.

Crime Fiction Lovers kindly called out all the stories:

H-C Chan’s Murder’s Feast is a sinister tale about an exclusive retreat for venture capitalists hosted by a notorious techpreneur. What starts off as a gourmet event in true pretentious foodie style turns into a much darker feast with hints of Lord of the Flies thrown in… It’s rare to find a collection of short stories where each one included is readable, entertaining and hits the spot perfectly. Difficult as it may seem, Midnight Hour is such an anthology. Even if you, like me, prefer your crime fiction novels thick, engrossing and part of a series, this is the perfect palate cleaner to refresh and rekindle your love for crime fiction. Highly recommended, especially for the holidays around the corner.

Sonja van der Westhuizen, Midnight Hour: A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction from 20 Authors of Color, Crime Fiction Lover, Nov. 12, 2021

NB (literary magazine)

This is one of the most enjoyable crime anthologies I’ve read in recent years. Midnight Hour is an entertaining collection of mysteries, all with clever twists, some of which are genuinely chilling and none let the side down. All the stories here are written by authors of colour and recognise just how much good writing is out there that deserves a higher profile. That’s certainly something to think about. Equally important this collection stands on the sheer quality of the writing and storytelling…

…There’s plenty to enjoy here, I also liked Midnight Escapade by Jennifer Chow and Murderer’s Feast by HC Chan. This is an absorbing anthology, the stories range wide, they are for the most part clever, and all riff on the witching hour. This collection is superbly edited by Abby L Vandiver whose own contribution The bridge is also a cracker.

Paul Burke, Midnight Hour edited by Abby L Vandiver – A Chilling Anthology of Crime Fiction from 20 Authors of Color, Dec. 1

So far the GoodReads average is at a solid 3.95. This one however captured the import:

The grand scheme behind Abby Vandiver’s Midnight Hour was a gathering of fiction writers of color. One would think by 2021 such a distinction would not be important. That writers are writers and their work should be held in high regard no matter color, creed, or gender. But this being 2021, such a collection is absolutely important. And necessary.

I am glad this was compiled and I enjoyed the stories within.