Sleep With the Lights On by Maggie Shayne
So here we go with a rare event. I read and reviewed Wake to Darkness which is book 2 in the series. It was sufficiently interesting to justify seeking out the first in the series which is still available to review. Even though it meant reading them out of sequence, we now come on to Sleep With the Lights On by Maggie Shayne (Harlequin Mira, 2013), the first outing for Rachel de Luca, famous author and self-help guru. She’s an interesting woman. At the age of twelve she lost her sight through corneal dystrophy and, in a sense, she’s never recovered from the emotional trauma. Inside, she remains embittered yet, by exploiting the tragedy, she’s been able to convert her good looks and ready intelligence into a money-making machine. Having studied the patter used by gurus of the past, she’s now published six books and regularly appears on talk shows to promote them. As a public persona, you can’t beat the calm and confident way she peddles her “bullshit” and interfaces with the world. Privately, she rages at people, particularly when she’s not getting her own way. Now Tommy, her brother, has gone missing and the police don’t seem too keen on moving Heaven and Earth to find him. This is stretching her patience to breaking point. Distracted by an exchange of view with the officer behind the public desk, she leaves the police station and is knocked down as she steps into the road. Fortunately, the car is driven by Detective Mason Brown and, if you were going to pick someone to knock you to the ground, you couldn’t hope for anyone so good looking. Ah such are the wiles of the romance writer.
But the prologue has shown us a serial killer disposing of his thirteenth body. Apparently he likes to batter young men who look like his son Jeremy to death with a hammer. This puts him in a relaxed mood to go home to his wife and his two sons. So here comes the kicker to get the plot moving. The serial killer is Eric Conroy Brown, adopted brother of said good-looking Mason. This is ironic because Mason and his partner Roosevelt Jones are the ones tasked with investigating the disappearance of twelve people. With his life unravelling, Eric decides to commit suicide, timing it so that his brother walks into the room just as he pulls the trigger. Books such as this aim for maximum melodrama. Meanwhile back at the hospital, Rachel has given her statement to the police and is joined by her sister Sandra, mother of Christie and Misty. No, wait, the bullet from the .44 Magnum didn’t kill Eric. Everyone’s now heading to the hospital, sirens blasting their warning of approaching monster. Except loyal brother Mason has snatched up the suicide note and the immediate evidence of serial killing. He wants to protect his sister-in-law and their two children from the shame. Now to perfect the set-up, Eric’s body is harvested for useful organs and Rachel gets the corneas. Although it’s somewhat convoluted, this is a rather pleasing way of launching off into paranormal territory.
When two “young” people are set on a trail to potential romance, there must always be hurdles to overcome. The path to true love. . . So even in the conventional romance, a match between a woman recovering her sight after twenty years and a detective on a guilt trip of his own devising, is going to be hard work. “I might have knocked you down and broken some ribs, but I gave you my brother’s eyes.” is not the most exciting basis on which to start. But in this instance, it’s what Rachel “sees” with the serial killer’s eyes that really gets things moving. It’s a fairly standard horror trope for transplanted organs to give the donor a potential influence over the host body. For example, Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison has an arm and foot replaced after damage in battle. So he can now salute with both arms and finds himself influenced by the personalities of the donors, parodying The Hands of Orlac (1924). In this instance, she’s having visions as dreams/nightmares with her eyes the point of view to see the murders of young men with a hammer. Better still, the killer knows she can see his work. That means she has to die.
There’s nothing new in the world. Somewhere, sometime, someone else has come up with the same idea for a plot. I’ve “seen” or read multiple versions of this plot idea before. This is not a criticism and, more to the point, there are no copyright or plagiarism issues involved. Once an author sets out into the realm of the supernatural or science fiction, there are hundreds of years of people storytelling with similar themes. Possession or influence stories are common because they explain sudden changes in personality and behaviour. X is taken over by a supernatural beast or alien and, while under that being’s direction, commits various crimes or behaves in inexplicable ways. This book represents a pleasingly different way of telling the story given Rachel’s slightly nonstandard character. Because she’s learned the workings of the world as both a sighted and a blind person, she “sees” or senses things in a different way. Indeed, while blind, she was somewhat notorious for surprising people with a supposed ESP ability. Actually she was very good at drawing inferences from nonvisual information: particularly smells and sounds. Now she can see again, she becomes a very good investigator/detective because she literally sees the world without too many preconceptions. There’s still novelty in sight and so she sees some things as salient when ordinarily sighted people would take them for granted.
Overall, Sleep With the Lights On is far more successful than the sequel. There’s a more natural flow to the plot with the supernatural nicely integrated into the text without being overdone. The tone is more consistent as it shifts from potential “horror” themes surrounding serial killers to supernatural stalkers. The development of the relationship between the two leading characters also feels relatively less forced than in other romance-tinged thrillers. Although I think it rather obvious how the plot will work out, the mystery element being less important than the thriller and romance elements, the entire package means the lack of surprise is not a problem. This is an enjoyable supernatural thriller or, if you prefer, paranormal romance.
For a review of the sequel by Maggie Shayne, see Wake to Darkness.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.