Louise Hare’s second Canary Club Mystery, Harlem After Midnight, begins with tragedy: A policeman gazes down at a grievously injured young woman lying on the ground in front of a three-story apartment building. Did she fall from the topmost window, or was she pushed?
Hare rewinds her story to the days leading up to this disturbing discovery, picking up where her series’ first installment, Miss Aldridge Regrets, left off. Lena Aldridge, a 26-year-old singer from London, is still reeling from her voyage on the RMS Queen Mary. It started with excited anticipation for a role on Broadway and ended in despair after a series of murders, the evaporation of her job opportunity and the revelation that a fellow passenger was in fact her New York City-based birth mother, the wealthy Eliza Abernathy.
Lena is relieved and grateful when Will Goodman, a handsome musician she met on the ship, suggests she stay with his friends in Harlem. Married couple Claudette and Louis Linfield are eager to get to know the first woman Will’s brought around in years. Will’s half sister, Bel Bennett, is curious, too, but her mix of effusive charm and snide duplicity leaves Lena feeling unmoored.
While wondering whether she and Will will have a future together and the music careers they desire, Lena also resolves to learn more about her beloved late father, Alfie, a pianist who lived in New York some 30 years ago. Harlem After Midnight’s timeline moves between 1936 and 1908 as Hare juggles the compellingly conceived perspectives of Lena, Alfie and his sister, Jessie, whom Lena has never met. Will she find out why Alfie left New York for London, track down her aunt and perhaps even connect with her mother before she’s due to board the Queen Mary once again? And who is the unfortunate young woman from the beginning of the book, and what does her fate have to do with Lena’s quest?
Through Lena’s eyes, Hare conveys the glory of the Harlem Renaissance, shines a light on New York’s painful history of segregation and emphasizes the value of learning about—and from—those who came before us. The resonance of family history and the dangerous potency of long-held secrets collide as Lena reckons with her past and strives to create a new path forward.