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Sleep With the Lights On by Maggie Shayne

September 26, 2013 Leave a comment

SLEEP-WITH-THE-LIGHTS-ON_SMP_ED

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.

Maggie Shayne

Maggie Shayne

 

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.

 

Wake to Darkness by Maggie Shayne

September 24, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

Maggie Shayne

Maggie Shayne

 

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.

 

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