Harlem After Midnight

Harlem After Midnight

by Louise Hare
Harlem After Midnight

Harlem After Midnight

by Louise Hare


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A body falls from a town house window in Harlem, and it looks just like the newest singer at the Apollo...in this evocative, twisting new novel from the author of Miss Aldridge Regrets.

Harlem, 1936: Lena Aldridge grew up in a cramped corner of London, hearing stories of the bright lights of Broadway. She always imagined that when she finally went to New York City, she’d be there with her father. But now he’s dead, and she’s newly arrived and alone, chasing a dream that has quickly dried up. When Will Goodman—the handsome musician she met on the crossing from England—offers for her to stay with his friends in Harlem, she agrees. She has nowhere else to go, and this will give her a chance to get to know Will better and see if she can find any trace of the family she might have remaining.

Will’s friends welcome her with open arms, but just as Lena discovers the stories her father once told her were missing giant pieces of information, she also starts to realize the man she’s falling too fast and too hard for has secrets of his own. And they might just place a target on her back. Especially when she is drawn to the brightest stage in town.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593439289
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/29/2023
Series: A Canary Club Mystery , #2
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 354,888
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Louise Hare is the London-based author of Miss Aldridge Regrets. Her debut novel, This Lovely City, was published in the UK to wide acclaim, and was a Between the Covers Book Club Pick on BBC Two. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of London.

Read an Excerpt


Tuesday, 8 September 1936

I'd been in the apartment for only fifteen minutes but already it felt like home. The bedroom that would be mine for the next fortnight was perfect; I might never want to leave. The bed was immaculately made with blue cotton sheets and a pristine white comforter tucked into the foot, the floor made of the same sturdy varnished wood that ran through the entirety of Claudette and Louis Linfield's home. Clean towels had been folded and placed on a cozy navy blue velvet armchair that sat in the ideal position, in a corner close to the window, where I could sit and catch the last rays of sunshine at the end of the day. Claud had even laid out a selection of her favorite books on the bedside table to ensure I had something to read before going to sleep. She was a librarian by trade, so I supposed the habit ran deep.

"You about settled in?"

Claud Linfield had a constant easy smile. Even though she and her husband had been complete strangers only a couple of hours earlier, I already felt that there was no place safer in the whole of New York than in this cozy apartment.

"Yes. Thank you." I moved to let her join me at the window, looking down into the street that was so different from the narrow London streets that I was used to. Wider, the buildings far taller, everything just that little bit bigger and brighter than back at home. "It's so kind of you to let me stay. I know that I could have stayed on at the hotel, but-"

"Hotels are for those without their own people," she told me. "Far as I'm concerned, you're with Will and that makes you family. He's as good as a brother to me and Louis."

Will Goodman. The reason I was in Harlem and no longer a resident of the luxurious but impersonal Sherry-Netherland hotel. We'd met on the voyage over from England. A cliché of a story: I had been a passenger; he was the bandleader, playing to the rich and famous every night in the Starlight Lounge on the HMS Queen Mary. It had been quite the voyage, and the addition of a whirlwind romance had left my head spinning. Perhaps it was foolish to throw my lot in with a man I'd only just met, but I trusted Will. There were so many others whom I couldn't, so when he'd offered to arrange for me to stay with friends of his, I'd agreed without a second thought.

"You all grew up around here, you and Louis and Will?" I could see a group of young boys playing down in the road, shrieking and laughing loudly, until a woman stuck her head out of a window across the street and called out a warning for them to keep it down. Some things weren't so different from home.

Claud nodded. "Went to the same school, and Will and Louis went to college together."

"Really? I didn't know that." Louis was a pediatrician at the local hospital. Had Will studied medicine as well? Doctor to musician was an odd career change.

"Come through, Lena. I know you English love your tea, but I hope coffee will do." Claud left the room before I could quiz her about Will.

Will and Louis were already in the lounge, and they had both chosen to drink beer. The Linfield lounge induced further envy. High ceilings and tall windows, the sashes lifted to let in a breeze and offset the warmth of the early September evening, the fading light bathing the room in a natural glow. An unlit fireplace sat center stage with a sofa and two armchairs arranged around it.

We were three stories up, at the top of what had once been home to a single family. Now the Linfields lived above two other couples. An older doctor friend of Louis's, a mentor from his medical school days, owned the building and occupied the ground floor as well as running a private practice from the basement. Above him lived his son, a dentist who shared the basement business with his father, and his wife, along with their small son. I was yet to meet them, but it struck me that yet again I was among people whose lives were very different from my own. I had left school with the bare minimum of qualifications; in my world they had never seemed that important. I was never going to be a doctor or a dentist or a teacher. Those occupations just weren't for people like me. Or so I had thought.

Claud and I took the sofa, with the men already settled in the armchairs. They might have been brothers, Louis and Will. They sat in the same way, one leg straight out, the other bent with their beer bottle resting on the thigh. On the ship, Will had always been dressed in a formal suit, his bandleader persona permanently on display. Now he had dressed down in looser, wide-legged trousers, his shirtsleeves rolled up and no tie in sight. He looked right at home, and I felt my breath catch in my throat as he looked up at me and smiled.

"So, you two met at sea, huh?" Louis was speaking to me but grinning at Will. I could guess what he was thinking. I'd been worried about what they'd think of me, a woman of loose virtue, but it seemed as though Claud and Louis weren't the sanctimonious type.

Will took a swig of his beer. "I already told you, didn't I? Lena and I got to talking since she's a singer. Same line of work. Just a shame the job she had lined up fell through."

"All this way for nothing?" Louis shook his head. "A real shame. At least now you get to have a vacation. Do the tourist thing and see the sights."

"That's true." I took the cup of steaming coffee that Claud handed me and I wondered when it would be acceptable, if ever, to ask for a beer like the men. "I managed to get a ticket back to England in a fortnight, but until then this city is my oyster. Thank you again for putting me up. It's really very nice of you."

"I, for one, am just thrilled to meet a friend of Will's," Claud told me. "We hardly see him these days, and when he does show up, it's just a flying visit, no news to report." She aimed this dig directly at Will, who shuffled uncomfortably in his chair.

"Will doesn't bring many friends home, then?" I avoided his gaze as it shifted to me. Of course I wanted to know. If he made a habit of bringing women back to Harlem, better I found out now.

"Lord no! You're the first in the whole time he's been working on the ships. How long is it now-five years? Six?"

"Too long." Will's tone made it clear he wasn't in the mood for Claud's teasing.

"Too long," Claud agreed. "It really is nice to know that he's not been as lonely away at sea as I've been imagining."

Louis's laugh was wheezing. "Oh, come on, now!" he said as Will began to protest. "We're only teasing. It's what friends do, isn't it? No need to take it so serious."

Will looked almost shy as he glanced at me. "I don't want Lena to get the wrong impression, is all."

"That you're a man who doesn't share his affections with every girl who crosses his path? I'd think that'd be a good impression to make." Claud eased the barely-sipped-from coffee cup from my hand. "You want something a bit stronger than that, don't you, Lena? I can tell." She got up to go to the kitchen, barely more than an alcove that had been sectioned off from the lounge.

I looked guilty enough to cheer Will up. "Lena, Claudette Linfield is my best friend, as good as a sister and a mother too, plus a mind reader to boot. You're in safe hands with her."

"But you do have a sister as well?" I was trying to remember what he'd told me in a rush as we'd temporarily parted at the port the day before. A reminder that I really didn't know very much about him, nor he me.

What I did know was that Will usually stayed with the Linfields when the ship was docked in Manhattan. However, on this occasion, in order to preserve my reputation (though it was far too late for that) he would stay with his sister overnight before returning to the port in time to sail the next day. Stepsister, I reminded myself-he'd been very clear on that for some reason. As much as it was disappointing that our last night together would be spent sleeping in separate beds, I knew how lucky I was to have these last few hours with him. My love affairs tended to end with a lot less civility than this one would.

"You know, I've been telling Will to come home and settle down instead of wasting the best years of his life away at sea," Claud told me, returning with a glass full of beer, ignoring the fact that the man himself was sitting right there.

"Life doesn't seem so bad on the ship," I told her, trying to stick up for him. "You don't have to worry about rent, for one thing, or how to afford food. Things run like clockwork, and the people are nice."

"But isn't it dull? Living the same day, over and over again. Same people. Same sights. Anyone of interest only hanging around long enough to get from A to B." She gave me a sharp look, and I knew that I was the "anyone of interest," but I had to disagree on one point. At least on the Queen Mary's last crossing, life had been far from dull. I only wished it hadn't been.

We'd decided, Will and I-had agreed between us-that the events of the previous few days were best left alone. I had brought up the subject tentatively and been glad when Will agreed readily. When I told him that I wanted to put it all behind me, he had thought he understood. There was no easy way to explain to new acquaintances that I'd been at the center of a murder investigation. That three people had boarded the ship in Southampton alive and been carried off from the New York docks in a coroner's van. It felt like a dream-a nightmare-now that I was sitting with these very normal people. How could they understand?

Besides, as far as almost everyone was concerned, the culprit had been found out and appropriate action taken. Apart from me, only the murderer knew the truth, and no one would believe me if I told them what had really happened. Even Will was more in the dark than he knew. Still, I knew that it was in his best interest to be ignorant. When I'd felt scared and lost on the ship, he had been the one person I trusted, the only person I could find shelter with. It was another reason I'd decided to risk following him to Harlem rather than staying in my fancy hotel. Some of my fellow passengers knew where I was booked to stay. I didn't think they would come looking for me, but sometimes it was better to be safe than sorry.

"You'd be surprised at what goes on at sea" was all I said to Claud.

"Well, I just think you're so incredibly brave to have traveled all that way alone, Lena." Claud pressed her lips together and shook her head. "See, that's why I'm glad I've got Louis. I'm far too chicken to do things like that. I'm not intrepid in the least."

"You never know-you could surprise yourself one day." I managed to smile, a lump forming in my throat as I tried to push down the memories of what had actually happened. I took a sip of my beer and struggled to swallow it down. What I wouldn't give for a martini, or anything stronger. Something to take the edge off . . .

"But do you have to go back to England right away?" Claud pressed, and for the first time I began to feel uncomfortable. So many questions. "What if you were able to find another job in New York?"

"I suppose-well, I haven't given it much thought." I didn't even know if I was allowed to stay much longer. I'd never traveled before. My passport was brand-new, and I'd literally never left England before, so I didn't know how things worked in America. I had no ties to New York, no bank account or home address, none of the usual mundane things that made life tick along easily. Yes, both my parents had been American, but how to prove that when one was dead and the other would likely rather die than confess to being my parent?

"Well, I think-"

"Claud?" Louis interrupted his wife. "Didn't you say you needed a hand in the kitchen? To carve the meat?"

She stared at him blankly, blinking as she realized she was being told to shut up and leave me and Will alone. "Oh, yes. Come on, then. Dinner won't serve itself."

Will came and took her place beside me on the sofa as she and Louis disappeared into the tiny kitchen. I'd never seen him look nervous before. Usually, it had been me standing before him and trying not to make a fool of myself.

"Is everything all right?"

"All right?" He paused. "Why wouldn't it be?"

"You don't seem yourself." He seemed tense, but I couldn't understand why when he was the one on familiar territory.

"Oh." He looked down at his hands. "I guess . . . There's something I wanted to tell you."

I groaned. "Oh God! How bad is it?"


"Are you going to tell me that you're married? Or that you have a secret child stashed away somewhere?" I gave him a gentle nudge with my elbow. "Come on, then, out with it."

Will grinned as he realized I was teasing, though he looked a little too relieved. Not a wife or a child, then. "No. This is . . . It's a good thing. I hope." He looked worried. "I just don't want you to think that-"

"Oh please, just spit it out." The suspense was doing nothing for my nerves.

"It's just that I got someone to take my place on the ship for this next trip coming up. I'm not leaving tomorrow. I'm staying in New York and then I'll travel with you when you sail back to England. If that's all right. With you."

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