Day 22: Either Side of Midnight has earned rave reviews making it worthy contendor for a place on your 2021 reading list. Author and award-winning stand-up comedian Benjamin Stevenson is earning high praise for his second crime thriller. Either Side of Midnight is an electrifying thriller that explores male relationships in a way few other books do.
We are publishing 31 days of extracts to inspire you to add some new Australian authors to your reading list and this one is bound to tempt any fans of crime thrillers.
When Jack Quick was told he had a visitor, he certainly didn’t think it would be Sam Midford.
His surprise was partly because they barely knew each other, except for a rare brushed shoulder when Jack had worked at the same television network. But mostly because Jack had watched Sam Midford die three days ago. Everybody had.
Jack had been lying on his back on the top bunk, notepad in hand, arm outstretched to catch the sunlight from his only window, a chewed pencil running a victory lap around his teeth. The notepad was covered in numbers: added up, divided and crossed out. He’d started hunched over his desk but couldn’t get the answer he wanted and decided his maths might be more productive upside-down. But mathematics is not easily coerced by will. The result was the same as when he’d calculated it that morning. Forty-eight.
His cell at Long Bay Correctional Facility wasn’t exactly comfortable, but neither was it strictly spartan. He’d visited before he’d been arrested, to bribe guards and arrange phone calls with a convicted killer, so he’d half-known what was coming, but he hadn’t been allowed in the cells. Now it was home.
There was a bunk bed kidnapped from a school camp, with a thin aluminium frame that creaked at the joints and threatened to fold flat every time Jack climbed the ladder. The top bunk was the only way to get natural light from the solitary window, so he climbed it anyway. The floor was concrete but large enough for pacing between the bunk and a set of cubic shelves on the opposite wall. Closest to the door was a desk, a white stool, and above that, bolted in the corner, a small television. Jack rarely watched it. Sometimes the news. Definitely not documentaries.
In the far corner there was a lidless toilet and a stainless-steel basin. Jack kept that area the cleanest. That was no surprise. If he broke, he had to vomit in calm silence. Leave no trace.
To distract himself from the numbers, Jack had been thinking about who he’d give his dinner to. He was eating fine these days – or fine enough, at least, because his illness was always knocking somewhere, in his head or his gut – but he still swapped his dinners with other inmates. The prison physician, Dr Kensington, who used the term bulimia and Jack was certain had never treated an eating disorder before, demanded that he get high-calorie meals, custom-made. Nothing isolates an inmate more than tucking into a burger and chips when everyone else is eating macaroni and cheese.
Jack had, for personal safety, quickly adopted a bartering system. He didn’t need friends, but the deep-fryer was hot enough to forge a few alliances. He wasn’t doing it to get rid of the food, he told himself as he over-chewed whatever he’d traded for, it was a social necessity. Still, whenever Kensington caught on, which he did every couple of weeks, Jack would have to eat alone in his cell. ‘Some punishment,’ other inmates moaned, ‘tucked away eating ice cream.’ Jack agreed. Stocked up on chocolate bars and cans of Coke. Such strange torture. If you want to be well fed in prison, try having an eating disorder.
Jack’s thoughts were interrupted when someone knocked twice and paused. Jack knew the beat was procedure, so inmates could move back from the door. Based on Jack’s spindly physique and general threat level, he could only assume the policy was arbitrary.
The guard who entered was young, strawberry blond and wearing a uniform several sizes too big. Even if Jack hadn’t known Lee McCormack, the uniform alone would peg him as a new recruit, recycled from one of the more hirsute seniors.
‘Looks good on you,’ said Jack, sitting up.
‘Man, I wish they’d deliver mine already. I feel like a medium chips in a large pack.’ McCormack hen-pecked his shirt’s shoulders, lifted them so they engulfed his frame, and let them flop back down. ‘Whoops.’ He stopped himself. ‘Is that offensive?’
‘You’re allowed to talk about food around me.’
‘I did this extra training for in-clus-iv-ity.’ He sounded it out, and Jack could almost see the bouncing karaoke ball skim across his forehead as he built the word. ‘Know you’re not supposed to, like, ask someone “where are you from” these days. But, man, you’re not fat. I don’t get it. I ain’t never seen a bloke spew before that ain’t had gastro or a skinful.’
‘If it helps you to think of it like gastro, it’s like gastro. Except you don’t get it in Bali.’ Jack said, because Kensington had encouraged him to articulate his illness more often. He still didn’t call it the medical term. Couldn’t wrap his tongue around the burr of that first B, recoiled at the way it spat from his lips. So much had passed through those lips. But not that word. Because to people like McCormack, he had no claim to it. They’d never seen a bloke spew before. ‘What do you need?’
‘Sam Midford’s here to see you.’
‘Wait? Who?’ Jack hopped off the bunk. Icy concrete seared his bare feet.
Extract is from Either Side of Midnight by Benjamin Stevenson, published by Penguin Random House (RRP $32.99).