Shadows At Sunset
by Anne Stuart, paranormal (2000)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-571-9


Trust Anne Stuart to make dysfunctional and codependency sexy. Shadows At Sunset has ghosts, a heroine who openly acknowledges to being codependent and neurotic, a hero who is a con, and a villain so nasty in his dysfunction that even the late Virginia Andrews must be seething in envy.

The story revolves around a main cast of characters in a Cluedo-style scenario. Meet our heroine, Jilly Meyer, willing neurotic and martyr and if you don't like it *beep* you. She is attracted to her father's right hand man Zachariah Coltrane, the latter a nasty SOB who just wants to see the entire Meyer clan disintegrate in his personal vendetta against Jilly's father. Jilly's brother Dean is a willing doormat for his father's abuse and he has the hots of Coltrane. Rachel-Ann, Jilly's adopted sister, is trying to claw her way out of a downward spiral of drugs, alcohol, and fast sex. And finally, meet the Meyer daddy, the really evil Jackson Meyer who puts the S in psycho.

Jilly, Zach, Rachel-Ann, and Dean find themselves holed up in La Casa de Sombras on Sunset Boulevard, sharing space with two ghosts, Brenda de Lorillard and her married lover Ted Hughes. Brenda and Ted are reputed to have died in some suicide-murder ritual.

Jilly wants Zach out of their lives. Zach wants Jilly. Rachel-Ann wants to be left alone, and Dean wants - uhm, something. With all the turbulent stuff about to break loose, you bet I would want front row seats. And it's a great show. But I must say the secondary characters overshadow Zach and Jilly.

Jilly, despite being a knowing neurotic, just isn't as interesting as her screwed-up sister Rachel-Ann. Zach is like a carbon copy of previous Anne Stuart's contemporaries, the hero from Shadow Lover coming to mind. And their love story is surprisingly devoid of any genuine passion. It's like watching a chess game between two world-class players who have too much time to think. Zach makes one move, Jilly counters, and so on. Still, that first heavy petting scene that leaves everyone wet? That's a hot one.

I find the characters of Rachel-Ann and Dean more interesting. Rachel-Ann, however, is given an unworthy love interest - Enrique, her first boyfriend now returned into her life. Enrique speaks like a hackneyed Deepak Chopra, sprouting annoying mysticism like "Do what you like. Are you sure that's what you want to do?" Ugh. But hey, Rachel-Ann needs a father figure, so why not Ricky?

Dean, the unrepentant doormat, is woefully underwritten. The story alludes to him being blind to truths - what does that mean? Does that mean he's oblivious or a devious scum? I'm never given much information on that. Dean is supposed to be a doormat hungry for his father's affections, thus his turnabout act at the ending doesn't make sense.

The two ghosts only make things irritating. What are they doing here? Worse, why is it that whenever they appear, they always end up exchanging mawkish koochie-poochie bunny-beary-bear-bear disgusting love coos? It's gross. It's so Care Bear and I can't stand those Care Bear monsters.

Still, there's no denying the underlying darkness and sexual energy of Shadows At Sunset. Dark heroes and heroines burn the hottest, and boy, ain't that the truth when it comes to this book. The narration is top notch and the ending confrontation has me feeling edgy and tensed. This book can't do wrong when it comes to entertainment. If Dean and Rachel-Ann are fleshed out better, if those two Care Bears masquerading as ghosts would just choke on their glucose airbag, this book would be a standout winner.

Rating: 84


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