The Midnight Cool
Young horse trader Charles McLaughlin spends nearly all of the money that he and his partner, Billy Monday, made in a summer of slow trading on a magnificent black thoroughbred mare. The owner, Leland Hatcher, the richest and most powerful man in Richfield, Tennessee, drove a hard bargain, but Charles pays top dollar for “the prettiest horse ever drew breath.” When he tries to catch the skittish filly to load onto the trailer, she attacks him, teeth bared and hooves flying. Charles realizes that he has been swindled; she is a man killer, but is now his problem. When he also falls in love with Hatcher’s beautiful daughter, Catherine, who is far above his humble station in life, he finds that their relationship is just as complicated.
So begins this dazzling debut novel by Lydia Peelle, winner of multiple literary awards, including the O. Henry Prize for her previously published compilation of short stories, REASONS FOR AND ADVANTAGES OF BREATHING.
"THE MIDNIGHT COOL is a masterfully crafted novel of victory and defeat, longing, discovery and treachery, featuring a cast of characters portrayed with such depth as to become memorable long after we close the cover."
THE MIDNIGHT COOL is set in Tennessee horse country in 1916 just before America joins World War I. Charles, orphaned early in life when his prostitute mother died, has been taken under the wing of Billy, a savvy Irish immigrant who trains him in the horse trading business. Both men are con artists who know every trick of the trade to turn a broken-down old nag into a beauty that the unsuspecting rubes cannot pass up. Charles sees a future in mule trading when he learns of the British Army’s need for mules to be shipped to the front in France. He grasps the opportunity to gain wealth and prominence, and starts buying up every mule within 50 miles to sell to the British. When America is drawn into the fray, he and Billy are set to meet the growing demand and enter into the serious business of providing mules to the American military.
Peelle writes with vivid pose and warmth about young people falling in clandestine love, mule breeding, deception, racism and rampant patriotism as the war draws near. Beneath it all lays the history of the sturdy, trustworthy and humble mule --- the work machine of the early 20th century. The fevered patriotic zeal of young men eager to enlist is stirred by parades and dramatic tableaus by beautiful young women all over the country. Peelle provides an equally intriguing back story about Billy’s early immigrant life that fills out his character and explains his connection to Charles, who is ultimately confronted with a crisis in conscience and forced to make a life-altering decision.
THE MIDNIGHT COOL is a masterfully crafted novel of victory and defeat, longing, discovery and treachery, featuring a cast of characters portrayed with such depth as to become memorable long after we close the cover.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 13, 2017