Wake to Darkness by Maggie Shayne
Wake to Darkness by Maggie Shayne (Harlequin Mira, 2013) is the second instalment in the story of Rachel de Luca, author of a very successful series self-help books, and Detective Mason Brown. They think each other hot. In the first in this series, Sleep With the Lights On, they slept together once. As this starts, they have decided to cool off. That hasn’t stopped the detective from asking her help in solving another case. So how does this work? She may be writing books promoting the idea that positive thinking solves all problems, but that’s just a way to make money. At heart, she’s a cynic and less than convinced anyone actually benefits from reading and following the advice of authors such as herself. But, after she receives a corneal transplant to cure her physical blindness — she was blind from the age of twelve — she starts to experience “visions”. Yes, she sees vicious crimes as they are committed. This makes her “useful” to the detective and not just in bed.
Well this is another jump into the deep end of paranormal romance. As a man, exploring this subgenre is fascinating because it shows me how women see the world and evaluate threats in their environment. Having now read the work of three leading proponents in quick succession, I’m now able to offer some working definitions. For this I make no apology. I’m essentially selfish, writing these reviews as much to get my own thoughts straight as to inform my readers. At a simple level, I think authors in this subgenre are writing supernatural horror novels with only a dilute horror element. Whatever fantasy element is included is subordinated to the romance. So, as in this story, the couple meet each other again after a short separation. They continue to be powerfully attracted to each other but, for reasons which no doubt sounded good to each of them when they separated, their relationship is on hold. This forces readers to wait until circumstances change enough for them to get back to the hot sex they so enjoyed the last time around. Whether they will be able to live happily ever after depends on how many books there are in the series and how the romantic element will play out if they become a stable couple.
I suppose the distinction from urban fantasy is the emphasis in the plotting. From the label, the fantasy in urban fantasy is dominant whereas the romance in paranormal romance gets the dominant role. This is not to say the setting for a paranormal romance cannot be in a city and feature supernatural abilities corresponding exactly to fantasy stereotypes. But the point of the stories is to achieve an optimistic outcome from the couple’s courtship rituals. They are good people who stand against the evil of this world and, in emotional terms, they earn rewards by defeating evil, no matter what form it takes. Hence, these books are not “love” stories with dark or horrific opponents who “get in the way”. The traditional horror story doesn’t always end well for the primary characters. They often get get maimed or killed. The paranormal romance has unfair or, sometimes even malevolent, circumstances to navigate but, when the immediate adventure ends, our couple will have survived more or less intact, but not necessarily in a permanent relationship. This contrasts traditional “love” stories in which the couple usually marry and sail off into the sunset expecting a secure and happy future.
So back to Wake to Darkness in which one of the other people who was in the transplant program which produced her “magic” eyes, has disappeared. We all know there’s no such thing as a coincidence. The question is whether she can use her sight to “see” someone who’s a victim of crime. Fortunately for the plot to work, she begins to have dreams where she’s in the head of women and men who are being killed for the organs sourced from the same body. These dreamed experiences in real time describe a sadistic murder from the victim’s point of view and then carefully stop before they get too graphic. In a sense this is justified because our heroine has learned her role is not passive. No matter what the circumstances, she’s to use the time to collect information about where she is and precisely what’s happening. In the first scenario she’s drugged and her pancreas is removed. In the second, the killer comes at her from behind and takes her left kidney. This gives both the detective and readers tantalising details, but nothing substantial in the preliminary stages of the investigation. Having gone through the set-up, the couple then does the “thriller” slasher movie thing. He thinks she will be safer if she hides. Playing the part of the male protective figure, he arranges for her and her niece Misty to go to an isolated skiing resort in the Adirondacks. Then more family join them. Hey, like that’s going to work out well when the snow comes and they get trapped with a sadistic killer who’s come to collect the eyes that restored her sight. And then, before they set off and just to ratchet up the tension, there’s an attack. . . This is going to be a great Christmas.
Although it may look as if I’m poking fun at this, there’s tremendous craft in the writing which nicely balances the romance against the thriller elements. The supernatural is, for most of the book, largely understated which helps to retain some degree of fictional credibility — it would be far too intrusive if our heroine was always receiving dream messages as if she could tune in her eyes like television channels. All of which leaves us with the mystery element. This is quite strong. The degree of analysis to include or exclude suspects is satisfying. The whodunnit is pleasing with a not unreasonable motive for the murders. Put together, this makes a good package, perhaps if only because it’s a mystery thriller romance with only nominal supernatural stuff going on. If I had a criticism, it would be that there’s a slight disconnect in tone between the first third of the book with the “horrific” dreams coming in, and the remainder which is almost entirely supernatural free with merely routine murders. Indeed, the book would work without any supernatural elements because what she “sees” is not relevant to catching the killer. Were it not for the first book, this could have been written as a straight thriller. But I’m prepared to forgive that and accept this as an enjoyable, even though romantic, read.
For a review of the first in the series, see Sleep With the Lights On.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.