Sunday, August 25, 2013


Title: Thirty Seconds Before Midnight
Author: Helen J. Beal
Publisher: Carapace Limited
Publication Date: December 1, 2012
Genres: Women’s Lit, Family, Drama
Reviewed by: Margitte
Source: Received from author for review
Margitte’s rating: 5/5


What happens when the old money runs out and the new money rolls in? Welcome to Bestwood, a dilapidated estate in the wilds of the English countryside where Herbert, a giant land tortoise presides over the tatty menagerie. The zookeeper, Bob, and his daughter Stella are mystified when rock legend Dave Palmer arrives with his twin sons; that is, until they announce their plans to reinvent Bestwood as 'Palmer Springs - Where Hope Is Eternal' - a luxury refuge for creative souls - and no place for a menagerie. This contemporary retelling of the classic Greek myth, Orpheus and Eurydice, takes sex, drugs and rock and roll, mixes them up with doses of evolution and pantheism and swings between comedy and tragedy.


It was the first time ever that I seriously thought about the different forms of laughter. I honestly never thought I had it all in me! While reading this book, it went from quaint gigles, tee hee hees, harrah harrah harrah, woo-hoo hoo, snorting, chuckling, bwahaha ha to almost indecent guffaws, snickers, and titters! 

Which form of laughter do you think would you indulge in when you read this:

"...just as the main door to the Big House flew open with an almighty smash, and the man with the stripy hair stood proud on the step, naked as a nectarine. With his hands on his hips, he screamed as though his toenails were being extracted.

Bob dropped the bucket. It tumbled down the Hill, emptying its contents - a delicious assortment of lettuce ends and cucumber starts - in its wake. First his face, weathered like one of Stella's vintage handbags, went a chalky white. Then, as Naked Man, his hair swinging against his gluteus maximus, posed in prayer then like a standing star and then low down like a wheelbarrow, so low that I was sure the tip of his genitalia must have been scraping on the gravel, Bob turned puce. And he stomped off to the feed shed."

But wait, humor and satire are not the same all over the world. What the English, and most of the world who shared a life with the Brits at one point regard as hilariously funny, might be regarded by the Americans as dull and not funny at all. 

Whatever the case might be, this book will touch you in more ways than one. Actually in more ways than you could ever have imagined! 

I cannot help but smile again when trying to introduce the duo, Digby, the parakeet, and dear Herbert, the gigantic land tortoise - who is not the only, but mostly, our main narrator! 

My first impression was that I have been fooled into reading a children's book. Perhaps it was a fairy tale for grown-ups, which had me quite infatuated with the idea, since it worked so well as the story initially unfolded!

Well, as I mentioned, there's Digby, the flying arm of the gossip team, and Herbert the wallflower, a real tortoise though, enclosed in his 'exquisite boredom', observing the lives of their new neighbors at Bestwood. Herbert had a crush on Stella, his human friend. Best friend he ever had! The feeling was mutual! Digby regarded Herbert as his mother but that's another story ...

Perky Herbie (my nickname for Herbert) is bowled over with the voice of Ollie, one of the twins of the new neighbors. Herbie just figured out that Sid and Ollie, with their band, Apollemis, were indeed the incarnation of Apollo and Artemis, with Ollie, no doubt, being Apollo - the God of music and light. He wasn't so sure about Sid, though. But he would go with Sid as the male embodiment of Artemis, lady of wild things, the moon, the dark side. The twins were like the sun and the moon. Truth and chastity. These twins were united by their band called Apollermis. The name was a combination of the two Greek Gods' names. Right then... Ollie was the musician and Sid the party animal.

The previous owners who lived a quiet life at Bestwood, sold the impressive property to the twin's dad Dave, with his new trophy wife Issa, and her three dog-lits. She might have been a mistake in Dave's life since he soon realized that he cannot make her happy, that her discontent with life is permanent...

Herbie felt it "unfair that these humans could have multiple talents, explore multiple uses of themselves and be good at more than just one thing. It was like living several lives in just one - it was gluttonous. A richness that wracked my simple life dedicated to observation with poverty rendered it positively dissatisfying."

I would say that this thought of Herbert, pretty much sums up the fast-flowing story with its surprising twists and turns. 

The turning of events will begin with the famous rock star, Dave Palmer, buying the estate, planning to turn it into a health resort, getting rid of the animals as well. The gatehouse, where the zookeeper, Bob and his daughter Stella reside, would make a perfect recording studio for the twins. Ollie planned his own record label.

The idea will receive creative, ingenious opposition (mostly kicking and scheming) from the existing occupiers, both human and animal alike. It promised to be hilarious in its originality. 

The book addresses life, including animal & human antics with wit and wisdom in an easy-flowing format. All the animals have names and characters like their human counterparts. The story proves that we are somehow, either through blood, or the company we keep, family. 

The story line is original and very well executed. The events are funny, sad, feisty, profound, thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, but definitely grown-up in nature. There is a dignity and depth in all the characters. There is a skillful intermixing of narrators to keep the story flowing. Most of the character development will be done in epistolary style. The initial impression of dealing with a bunch of lunatics, will be balanced out very quickly by the rolling events. 

The characters show respectability and responsibility in their make-up, which renders the story real and utterly believable apart from fairy tale characters Herbert and Digby being their twittering, pondering and philosophical selves. And do not forget the phantom tigress called Kevin...!

Stella would become the catalyst that would force all the human and animal family in her life to address their own truths, hurt and way forward. There is anger, sadness, laughter as well as a state of total disbelief in the situation. There is enough drama to keep the reader absolutely riveted to the unfolding tale. And no, it turned out not to be a fairy tale for grown-ups at all. In fact, I was so totally caught off-guard for what would happen!

I never thought I would enjoy this book this much! Honestly. I have a confession to make! Well yes, I want to pull on a British flag short, jump over the wall into the zoo encampment, take a bow; where the Naked Man's had been punchy, mine will be wide, generous and all inclusive, like Ollie's, and, like him, want to yell: " Hello, I'm Ollie! Ollie Palmer. And it is my absolute pleasure to meet you all!" 

How terribly fast life changed after Ollie's clownish jump!

This story is brilliant. No annoying lose ends will blow into your eyes; no emotion will remain unaddressed. A tragicomedy par excellence! I have been soooo wrong into believing differently!

Five stars! All the way! I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a heartwarming, yet soul-wrenching community and family drama. This book will surprise you beyond believe! 


Thirty Seconds Before Midnight by Helen J. Beal has 12 reviews on Goodreads. Read it here.



Helen J Beal was born in York in the north of England in 1974. She has a degree in English Literature and Language from London University and a professional background in Information Technology sales, specializing in creating and growing start-up businesses.

She is the author of three novels: Thirty Seconds Before Midnight, Rich in Small Things and Riding a Tiger, and a collection of short stories: Half a Dozen Star Jumps. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

Helen runs a writing group and a book club where she now lives in Chichester, West Sussex. She is particularly fond of llamas and tortoises and is addicted to Scrabble.


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