Twelve Minutes to Midnight is the first in a series of books about Penelope Tredwell, thirteen year old proprietor and writer for The Penny Dreadful – a monthly periodical she’s made so successful since her father’s death that it’s now outselling The Strand.
In this tale, Penelope’s alter-ego Montgomery Flinch is requested to help a baffling mystery at Bethlem Royal Hospital – the notorious Bedlam. Fortunately for Penny, she has already hired actor Monty Maples to ‘play’ Montgomery Flinch, as she’s desperate to solve the mystery for her next story. Unfortunately for her, Monty is terrified of almost everything so she doesn’t get to find out as much as she needs from the haunted inhabitants at Bedlam. Every night, at twelve minutes to midnight, every Bedlam patient is compelled to write and write. Words of madness believe the Superintendent but Penelope is sure there is truth in them…
The first 100-or-so pages set up the characters and plot and are relatively slow-paced. Relatively compared to the second half of the book when as soon as we’re introduced to the mysterious widow, Lady Cambridge, things start happening in speedy succession. Lady Cambridge’s creepy research subjects are still making my skin itch a day after finishing this book; and the world of Penny, Alfie, Monty and Mr Wigram are somewhere that the reader will almost certainly feel compelled to revisit.
Twelve Minutes to Midnight is an intriguing mix of historical, alternate history, mystery, horror and paranormal novel with a strong female lead and decent supporting cast. Penny is probably a little too brilliant to be believable, but not in an overly irritating way. I also wasn’t convinced by some elements of the dream-based finale but I am not the target audience!
I have to review this as an adult, because MG and DG are too young. This is aimed for age 9+, and I wondered how many of the historical references would be understood by this age group. However, I have no current direct experience of the age range to know, and even if the historical references pass the reader by the story can still be followed and enjoyed. I just got an extra thrill from the inclusion of Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells, Freud et al.! I found this a very enjoyable read and will be getting the sequel because I want to find out more about Christopher Edge’s turn-of-the-century Victorian world. The synopsis for the sequel, Shadows of the Silver Screen, sounds intriguing and it’s published on 10th January so not long to wait!