by Jeanne Adams, contemporary (2009)
Zebra, $4.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0430-1
Meet our heroine Victoria Hagen, our hero Paul Jameson, and their mutual acquaintance Todd Peterson. They met in college, and their history is pretty complicated. Let's just say that Torie once dated Paul very briefly, got engaged to Todd shortly after, and was dumped by Todd just before they were supposed to get hitched. Torie knew Paul was against her going out with Todd - she had heard him telling Todd that she was not the right woman for him - so she reasonably believes all this while that it was Paul's encouragement that drove Todd to call off their engagement. Her history with Paul also has her suspecting that he doesn't like her for some reason.
In the years since Torie and Todd's engagement was canceled, Torie realized that the men she got too close to subsequently tended to end up injured in one way or the other. She suspected that perhaps there was some kind of stalker behind all this, but the cops didn't believe her.
When the story opens, Torie's "black widow" touch catches up with her big time when not only her house catches fire, she learns that Todd was recently murdered and she could very well be the prime suspect. Paul is Todd's lawyer and, concerned that Todd was MIA, walks back into Torie's life. Neither is happy about seeing the other person, but soon they both realize that someone is out to kill Torie and this killer could very well be the same person who killed Todd. Bullets begin to fly, they begin to run into the night, and therefore, ladies and gentlemen, the show has begun.
The set-up is pretty awkward and unnecessarily complicated on paper, I know, but Dark And Deadly is a surprisingly enjoyable read with a pretty solid emotional component to make up for the rather lackluster suspense component. Now, don't ask me whether the depiction of Paul's lawyer duties is authentic, because I don't know, heh, but I personally feel that the author may have taken some creative liberties when it comes to the police procedures and lawyer protocols here.
Torie spends a lot of time running around in fear for her life while trying to make sense of what is happening to her, so it is to Ms Adams' credit that I still manage to have a pretty good sense of Torie's character. She is a pretty smart heroine underneath that damsel in distress trapping of hers - at the very least, she does not let Paul treat her like garbage. And make no mistake, Paul can be a big asshole here. I have to give Ms Adams credit here too - she doesn't come up with contrived excuses for Paul's behavior. Sometimes a man can be an asshole, plain and simple, and this is exactly the case with Paul, weenie king and asshole. And yet, Ms Adams also lets Paul man up late in the story, experience an epiphany, and apologize appropriately to Torie. Do I believe in the longevity of this romance? Honestly, no. But I can believe the happily for now of these two.
The suspense is quite disappointing. There is only one possible suspect here - the other fellow's name is Deveraux and if you believe this is the name of a villain, you must be new to the genre - and when this person turns out to be the villain, it is not exactly the most exciting revelation around, let's just say. Also, the confrontation with the villain arrives way too late, long after the momentum has fizzled out in this story.
Not only that, the author has created one of the most obnoxious secondary characters ever in Pam, Torie's stereotypical hip and outgoing best friend. I believe Ms Adams is aiming for some kind of hip vibe with Pam's constant "girlfriend" and what not, but the end effect is like a middle-aged Avon lady trying too hard to connect with young people three decades her junior. Pam is more like a cartoon than a person, and worse, she's the kind of weirdo who will ask about the heroine's love life when Torie is recovering in hospital after Torie's house went up in flames. Pam is very jarringly out of place in this otherwise pleasant story.
Still, all things considered, Dark And Deadly is a pretty good read. A part of me wonders whether the author will do better in a straightforward contemporary romance rather than romantic suspense, but I guess only time will tell if I am right.
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