by Sharon Sala, contemporary (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-939-0
There is actually a pretty good suspense story in Dark Water, but lazy writing and shoddier characterization pretty much reduce this book into yet another one of the many Sharon Sala's romantic suspense misfires. A little watching of CSI to keep one's knowledge of forensic methodology updated could have done wonders for the romantic suspense - repeat after me, Ms Sala and all you romantic suspense authors out there, DNA fingerprinting - and a little more time developing the romance would have made the romance reader in me a little happier too. In short, more effort could have been done to make both the romance reader and armchair suspense fan in me happy.
It's not as if she doesn't have the chance to. Dark Water takes place at a leisurely pace, with so many opportunities to create a grand romance as well as a good suspense, but nothing is delivered but a halfbaked if pleasant and unmemorable read.
Sarah Jane Whitman flies back to Marmet, Maine, when they finally discover the body of her long-lost father. The father, twenty-years ago, disappeared and everybody presumed that the man disappeared with one million dollars that he had embezzled. In the nightmare that followed, Sarah's mother committed suicide and Sarah was sent to live with an aunt.
Now, she had a chance to learn that her father was really innocent of his sins, and now she would clear his name, with or without the help of the local authorities. Tony DeMarco, her childhood acquaintance, becomes the obligatory object of her affection thing.
First off, let's start with the romance. When they last met, he was sixteen and she was ten. When Ms Sala writes about how Sarah used to sit outside the window and ogle at shirtless Tony, I don't know what to say. I'd like to imagine the ten-year old kids are still not into that sex thing yet, so please, Ms Sala, let's not shatter my illusions, okay? Leave the Lusty Lolita thing at home.
Then there's Tony. That guy is, in a word, weird. Sarah is pretty much helpless and useless through the story, and he gets off at her weakness. When she is telling him tearfully a sad story about her life, the guy actually gets an erection there and then and marvels in his mind how hot and sexy she is. Uh, Tony, she's distressed. She's crying. This is not a time to get horny, unless you really have a fetish for your woman all helpless and weepy and useless. This is how Tony falls in love with her. Every time he sees her, she's either weeping or clinging to him for support, and he's getting all aroused from that. The thing is, this is presented as True Love and not as a deliberate Love on the Codependency Pill. Can we say "oblivious misfire by oblivious author"?
The suspense. Let's see. The author litters the story with red herrings, but these red herrings are so transparent, only Ann Coulter and her legion of minions will be buying them. There's the closeted gay man and the rich slut (woman+money+libido = slut, man+money+libido = romance hero) who try to fool me into thinking that maybe they are the villains, but I'm not fooled. They are not red herrings, just lazy stereotypes, just like the villain who is yet another crazy stereotype. And really, Ms Sala, this is 2002. I'd expect a case of a missing million dollars will be given more priority by the authorities, and it really can't hurt for someone to send a hair or something from the corpse to the a lab for a more detailed forensics analysis. CSI is one of the most popular TV series in America and CSI: Miami aka CSI: Bye Bye Kim Delaney isn't too far behind. Surely you've watched these shows at least once, Ms Sala?
But one thing nice about this book is that it is pleasant and easy to read. For all their faults, Tony and Sarah don't grate on my nerves, even when Sarah is being unbelievably dense. In fact, all those peeves I've listed aren't because they annoy me as well as they disappoint me - there are so many things in this book that could have been easily fixed. Instead, Dark Water reads like a well-written Dumbed Down Romantic Suspense for Dummies.
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