The Last Days of the Midnight Ramblers: ARC review (out 2/13/2024)

The Last Days of the Midnight Ramblers by Sarah Tomlinson (Release Date: 2/13/2024)

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts here are my own.

Overview: Mari is a mid-level ghost writer who has stumbled into the chance of a lifetime to score a bestseller by writing the memoire of a woman greatly attached to famous 70s band the Ramblers. Desperate to score a career saving hit, Mari is focused on uncovering the secrets around one of the original band member's mysterious death in 1969. She's willing to sacrifice just about anything to get to the truth. Mari is immersed in the dark, twisted, weird, and sometimes dangerous world of celebrity where she finds surprising allies and dangerous adversaries along the way. Overall: 4

Characters: 4 A lot of what's difficult about this book is that Mari is our protagonist, but she spends all of her time trying to extract a different story and is focused on these rockstars. This leaves Mari in a weird spot in the narrative where we want to know about her as we navigate the world through her eyes, but the author seems worried about giving us too much of Mari and diverting the story away from the Ramblers. This ultimately leaves us in a somewhat confusing spot of disconnect with the main character. Mostly, we know that Mari is in a tough financial situation and that she didn't have a good childhood because her father had a gambling addiction. His addiction. she claims, informed her ability to work with the celebrities she ghost writes for in navigating their unpredictable moods. Unfortunately, we're just told about Mari's neglectful father over and over again without seeing anything in the present day or a flashback to really make the reader feel it or understand on a deeper level. The moments with her sister also seem awkwardly shoehorned in to try to provide her character a separate sense of being away from the Ramblers, but her relationship with V, though on the page, feels similarly cardboard to the troubles with her father. Mari and her world is pretty one note.  

Mari's narrative arc also struggles because, for so long, her main desire in the book doesn't make sense intuitively or in the context of the aims of job, and that mismatch isn't expressed well in the story, so when she ultimately sets aside that pursuit for the logical one, there isn't a ton of satisfaction to glean. 

The cast of the Ramblers, on the other hand, are built out with more depth. Dante is an aged rocker that still has a huge heart. Anke is a guarded, mysterious, alluring soul who's been through a lot and still has many secrets to work through. Jack is a bit callous and hard. Singrid has been the band's fixer so long that she might have lost the plot. Even the assistants and very minor players in the Ramblers orbit are interesting. These people have compelling nuance and lots of layers. The book is really about the Ramblers, but that's sometimes difficult for it to fully put forward within the structure of this book. 

There is a sweetness that develops between Mari, Anke, Dante, and their son Oddy. It's clear that Mari is given this absent dad to make these bonds ultimately sweeter, so I wish that her development as a character could've been stronger so this would had more of an impact.

Plot: 4 This ghostwriter archetype is also tricky because the life of a ghost is pretty monotonous. There's the interviews with the celebrity, tons of writing, which I know first hand isn't much to look at as someone puzzles through words on a computer screen for hours on end, and some bursts of spy movie level action. This book is so reminiscent of Daisy Jones and the Six that it's hard not to make a comparison. It seems they are even pulling inspiration from the same real life band. Daisy Jones managed a better flow and sense of urgency because it relied on transcriptions of interviews. It allowed the dramas of the band being uncovered in hindsight and with the sense of reflection that Ramblers attempt to capture to flow effortlessly. In this book, I wish they'd found a way to circumvent the monotony of being a ghostwriter more or leaned into it harder and made the book confidently about Mari the ghostwriter instead of about the Ramblers. There are many ways to write a compelling novel about a writer, and that just didn't happen here, mainly because the author seemed unsure how interested she was in that concept. The book often struggles between wanting to be about Mari and the experience she shares with the author of being a music writer turned ghost and wanting to just tell a twisted 70s rock and roll story, so it ends up not really doing either.

While the stories told through each interview scene were different, there were just so many scenes of Mari wanting, somewhat irrationally, to pry a ton of secrets out of an unwilling subject, and the celebrity not giving much. There are so many of the same scenes stacked on top of each other to pad the book between the few intriguing moments that by 60% I was losing motivation a bit. 

There is enough forward motion to keep a casual reader going. The sense of mystery as well as the stakes rapidly escalate for the final 20% of the book as all the clues throughout finally triangulate, and Mari finds herself in a dangerous situation. There is something readable about the chapters even as they can get lengthy and repetitive as you're always wondering what the next small clue might lead to. So, while there are definite flaws in the construction, it can still be an enjoyable read.

Writing: 4 This is a good beach read. If you like Taylor Jenkins Reid books, it's definitely worth picking up. I had hoped that because the author was a music journalist and ghostwriter that there would've been more depth in the portrayal of these jobs. There wasn't a sense that real, intimate, insider knowledge went into these pages, which was a bit of a letdown for me as I love music journalism and I'm fascinated by the idea of ghostwriting. The prose is easy enough to read and on certain occasions skim through, which is always nice in a lighter, quick read. But the style is repetitive and some passages feel like an exercise in how many synonyms for weed the author can think of. But there are enough charming moments in there to counterbalance the awkward quirks. If you love reading novels about celebrities or the '70s music scene, it's definitely worth a read through. You might come away with some interesting tidbits. 

Referenced In This Article:

Daisy Jones and the Six review

Malibu Rising review

More on Reading, Writing, and Me:

Even If It Breaks Your Heart review

January Reading Goals Check-In

Friends and Strangers review 

Come and Get It review


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