SPOILER ALERT ⚠
This review is of Midnight Captive, a standalone Zebra historical romance from March 1989 by Penelope Neri.
The book begins ominously. A man finds a cache of gold and wishes everything he touches would turn into it. Hearing him, the Devil appears and makes the man a bargain; if the unnamed man sells his soul to the Devil, the Devil will grant his wish. The man agrees. He later realizes, however, that such a bargain has unintended consequences. This is the theme running through the book.
We later meet Krissoula Ballardo, the heroine of the book, and her business partner, Hector Corrales, in Spain. Their business: rolling rich men and stealing from them. When they see Esteban de San Martin, the hero of the book, they try to rob him. This plan fails, and, rather than have Krissoula arrested, Esteban blackmails her into helping him get revenge against his uncle, Felipe Aguilar, in Esteban’s home country of Argentina. (Felipe is the brother of Esteban’s late father, Alejandro, and there is significant bad blood between uncle and nephew, the reasons for which are revealed). We also learn about Krissoula’s past, which involves a happy childhood and a much-less-happy young adulthood.
As part of Esteban’s plan, Krissoula is supposed to become engaged to Felipe. However, he discovers that she and Esteban are lovers, leading to major trouble for both Krissoula and Esteban. (Esteban is severely beaten by Felipe’s henchmen and Krissoula and her duenna Sofia de Alicante y Moreno are forced to flee. They end up being kidnapped by revolutionaries who want to overthrow the Argentine government). They escape their captivity, and Krissoula and Sofia make their way to the Argentine barrios, where Krissoula has to fight off the predatory intentions of Antonio Malvado, the “godfather” of the barrio they’re staying in.
Those efforts end up for naught, however, as Sofia becomes seriously ill and Krissoula has no choice but to go to Malvado for help. She also plans to kill Malvado for his contribution to the death of a friend of hers.
Esteban–now recovered from his beating–discovers that Krissoula is with Malvado, and, after a violent battle and a chase, rescues her from Malvado’s evil clutches, and kills him. Krissoula and Esteban marry, have one child, officially adopt two others, and unofficially many others (Krissoula and Esteban open an orphanage for the homeless, parentless children of the barrio). Krissoula and Esteban have their Happily Ever After.
A reader might read the title Midnight Captive and think the book is a “Stockholm Syndrome” romance. It’s not, thankfully.
What the book really is is a story about a young woman-Krissoula is 19-who has endured major hardships and trauma in her young life, finding happiness through her own inner strength and courage. At first, I didn’t like Krissoula (She starts the book as a thief), but as I read more, I grew to like, and later love, Krissoula. Readers will watch her grow up before their eyes. She has a lot of similarities with another Penelope Neri heroine, Freya Jorgenson from Sea Jewel. (The two stories are very different in terms of setting and culture, but both are about young women experiencing hellish trauma at young ages finding happiness by tapping into strength they didn’t know they had in order to survive).
Both Krissoula and Esteban are developed, fully realized characters; although neither are flawless, they are very human. They also have hot chemistry that comes from pairing a Gypsy/Spanish/Greek heroine with a Latinx hero. Esteban is my favorite Neri hero (admittedly not a high bar to climb, as most of her “heroes” are rapist bastards, but he clears the bar easily). I also liked the fact that both Krissoula and Esteban were willing to give a “hand-up” to the kids that needed a champion.
Ms. Neri also ties her parable from the beginning of the book into her main story: Esteban becomes wealthy, but realizes that it’s no good if he doesn’t have Krissoula, who he loves very much. For Krissoula, she almost married Felipe-who is later killed “off-screen”-but comes to realize that she may gain wealth by marrying him, but she would not be loved, as only Esteban could provide her with the true love she has been seeking all of her life.
Ms. Neri is also a very good “scenic” writer. By that, I mean that she is very descriptive in her writing of scenes and takes me, as a reader, into her scenes.
Like the majority of Ms. Neri’s books, Midnight Captive is overlong (This is the 10th book I’ve read by Ms. Neri, and only one has come in at less than 500 pages. Midnight Captive checks in at 512 pages). There were way too many exclamation points at the end of paragraphs and sentences. I also felt the storyline about the overthrow of the Argentine government to be tacked on as a way to extend the page count and not really important or relevant to the book as a whole.
Ms. Neri knows how to write a sexy love scene-she did so in Sea Jewel-but here, the love scenes are fairly mild. They’re not Ms. Neri’s best love scenes.
Assault, battery, destruction of guns and killings take place in Midnight Captive. The violence is not graphic.
Midnight Captive is not a flawless book, but it has more than enough good qualities-including an amazing heroine-to earn a 4.89, rounded-up 5 stars from me.
Reviewed by: Blue Falcon