Pleasurable tosh

Amanda Quick (the pen name of Jayne Ann Krentz) writes historical mysteries that are light on facts and heavy on story. She is of the minimalist school, and “Wait Until Midnight” is as grounded in the late Victorian period as Quick’s previous books were in the Regency, which is to say not much. In fact, if you didn’t know, they could have taken place in the same year, so similar they are in its preoccupations with the Quality, its balls, its carriages, maids, and romances.

In “Wait Until Midnight,” Caroline Fordyce supports herself and the two aunts who raised her by penning “sensational” novels for a newspaper. While researching the spiritualism craze for her next work, she encounters Adam Hardesty, who’s hunting for a diary that reveals his family’s secrets. His trail crosses Caroline’s as well as two mediums, one of who is found murdered, wearing a wedding veil and found beside a crushed watch, its hands stopped at midnight.

Where Quick excells is in her plotting, throwing in curves that freshen the standard story. Caroline is a popular writer with a secret past, and who masquerades as a widow but in reality a virgin. She is pursued, first as a suspect, then as a lover, by Adam, the brooding, virile hero who lives by his own rules, but is startled, then discomforted to discover that she’s been strip-mining his personality to create the villain of her latest penny dreadful. Worse, he discovers that many in his circle are enthralled by her tales and are eagerly awaiting the villain’s dreadful (and entirely merited) fate.

The Quick prose style is on a par with its namesake. The words flow fast, denuded of reflection, contemplation, depth or description. They are metaphor-free. Scenes are quickly sketched, characters quickly-limned, and the plot quickly dispensed with, and then it’s on to the next scene. These are romantic thriller historicals for readers who want as little history as possible to intrude in what the book’s heroine would term “startling incidents.”

Given these limitations, Quick keeps the plots spinning, the romance heated, and manages to come up with an appropriately creepy climax. It’s all tosh, but pleasurable tosh.