Book Review: It Ends At Midnight by Harriet Tyce
Sylvie Munro is on the cusp of attaining everything she’s ever wanted. After years as a London barrister and family court judge, she’s finally putting together her application for Crown Court judgeship, the pinnacle of her career ambitions. While the pursuit of justice has long been one of her watchwords, she fully acknowledges that there are certain other perks, too:
After getting rid of my bag and brushing my hair, I read through the papers until it’s time to go into court. Everyone in the courtroom stands and bows towards me; I bow back. Even though I know it’s the position they’re acknowledging, the role of judge, not just me, Sylvie, a flicker of excitement runs across me, as it does every time. I can’t deny that I like the feeling of power.
Her personal life is going well, too. After years of ambivalence towards the concept of commitment, she’s finally in a relationship, having gone out with chef Gareth Quarry for almost half a year now. They met while he was catering a law conference back in her infrequently visited hometown of Edinburgh, and hit it off. Nowadays, he makes the trek down to London to both see and cook for her.
She’s just about ready to introduce him to the few friends she has in the city when her best friend Tess drops a bombshell on her. Tess has received a terrible diagnosis and wants Sylvie’s help in fixing two things in her own life before she dies. The first is relatively simple: help Tess renew her vows with her estranged husband Marcus. The second, however, is explosive.
Back when they were teenagers, Tess and Sylvie testified against a schoolmate, Linda, despite not having clear recollections of the night in question. Linda subsequently went to prison. Tess wants to reach out and make things right, a goal Sylvie is vehemently against. The last thing she needs is for a case of potential perjury to scupper her Crown Court aspirations. Besides, if Tess wants to apologize so badly, she should go do it herself.
But Tess’ hold on Sylvie has always been strong, perhaps too strong, as Sylvie realizes while reviewing the wedding vow renewal guestlist:
She hasn’t kept up with anyone from those days, no one at all.
I know why. It’s not about me, really. It matters to her, this link to her past. Sometimes it feels as if Tess is the last piece of mooring to my past, too. Without her, I’d be rootless, rudderless, floating off into the ether with no sense of time or place. However angry we are, we both need the other to keep us grounded.
This connection goes a long way towards explaining the toxic relationship between the two women. It helps, too, that flashbacks in the narrative bring us back to the turbulent final years of Sylvie and Tess’ secondary school experience, when their desire to be cool led them to do any number of questionable things. But will the past stay where it belongs as the clock ticks down on the night of Tess’ vow renewal party, with at least one attendee hell bent on revenge and, possibly, murder?
This page-turning psychological thriller explores unhealthy friendships and the way we self-blinker in order to paint ourselves as victims, regardless of what’s actually going on with the people around us. Sylvie’s mental decline is swift and seemingly inevitable as she grapples with Tess and with her own memories of what happened all that time ago, on top of the pressures that come with her job. Readers will want to know who dies and how in this suspenseful thriller, which has perhaps no heroes, but only ordinary, fragile people, trying to do the best they can to make sense of an often cruel and unfair world, even if it means being cruel and unfair to others.