Middletide: A Novel

Image of Middletide: A Novel
Release Date: 
June 11, 2024
Atria Books
Reviewed by: 

Middletide is a mystery novel whose twists and turns will keep the reader intrigued and turning pages.”

In Middletide, author Sarah Crouch gives readers an unusual, if not unique, mystery. An intriguing suicide—or is it murder?—interferes with small-town-sheriff Jim Godbout’s hopes of easing into retirement. Crouch writes, “It was official. God hadn’t seen fit to grant Jim a peaceful last year. He thanked the coroner, shook his hand, and wished him safe travels back to Seattle through the storm. As the man drove slowly away in his maroon sedan, his taillights swallowed by swirling flakes of snow, Jim knew with sinking certainty that he was heading into a storm of his own.”

The prime suspect is Elijah Leith, recently returned to town after having left several years ago to pursue an education and career as a novelist, his sole accomplishment a failed murder mystery. His reentry into town life isn’t easy. “All around were ghosts of his past, each a decade and a half further along life’s timeline than when he’d last seen them. It was eerie, jarring almost, skipping forward a whole chapter in a small town’s history to witness the effects of age on its citizens.”

The most haunting “ghost” is Nakita, the high school sweetheart he had abandoned, now widowed and in mourning. “At last, he had seen her. And it hadn’t been the casual, adult conversation he’d envisioned, the show of maturity he had hoped to display. No. Just one glimpse of her and he had been a boy again, out of control and scared, making a complete fool of himself.”

When he comes to believe a renewed relationship is hopeless, he turns his attention to Erin, the fetching town doctor, who is mourning the loss of a daughter in a car wreck and a husband through divorce. When Erin is found hanging from a tree on Elijah’s property, and the revelation comes that the crime mirrors one he wrote about in his novel, he is accused of murder.

Jim’s deputy doesn’t believe Elijah would be so stupid. And the sheriff predicts, “He’ll say the same thing you just said. He’ll ask who in their right mind would commit a crime exactly like the one they wrote about in their novel. He’ll say he was framed, that someone read his book and made it look like he’d done it.”

While harboring doubts of his own, the sheriff arrests Elijah. “In his eyes, Jim found the anger and desperation he expected to be there, but there was something else, too, something that made the sheriff pause for a moment,” Crouch writes. “It was the look he might expect from an innocent sheep the moment before its throat was slit.”

More could have been made of the investigation and trial. And the author commits a serious flaw in writing about the trial. While locked up between court appearances, Elijah is surprised to learn from a deputy the existence of a diary the prosecution will use against him, in which Erin accuses him of violent behavior: “Elijah needed a copy of that diary. He needed a way to untangle the false threads that Erin had woven on those pages.”

In reality, the rules of evidence require that the diary would have been provided to the defense as part of discovery.

Despite its many qualities, Middletide contains a few other easily avoided mistakes. Here, for example, is a scene in which Elijah is working as an auto mechanic: “He was on his back, sorting his way through a tangle of pipes and wires to get at the head gasket that needed replacing. This was his least favorite kind of mechanical work, the kind that meant he had to take an entire engine apart piece by piece just to get at a leaky gasket the size of quarter.”

A head gasket is not accessed from under the car, but from under the hood. The part in question is not “the size of a quarter,” but a rectangle several inches wide and several more inches long with large circles the size of the engine’s cylinders—among other voids—stamped out of it.

At times in the novel, alluding to the biblical parable, Elijah is referred to as a “prodigal son” for his youthful departure from town and later return. However, the comparison is not apt as there was nothing “prodigal” involved—his sojourn was not characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure nor was he recklessly spendthrift, as “prodigal” is defined.

Also, there are a few inclusions of anachronistic language. While “skill set,” “game changer,” and being “that guy” have embedded themselves as 21st century clichés, they were unheard of during the early 1990s when the story takes place.

Still and all, Middletide is a mystery novel whose twists and turns will keep the reader intrigued and turning pages.