Light in Shadow, by Jayne Ann Krentz

>> Wednesday, April 14, 2004

I'd been saving Light in Shadow, by Jayne Ann Krentz for my long plane trip. I ended up switching flights and flying through the night instead of the morning, so I slept most of the way, but the book did help the few hours I was awake pass more quickly.

Zoe Luce is a successful interior designer in the Arizona town of Whispering Springs who's developed an unusual career specialty-helping recently divorced clients redesign their homes, to help them forget the past and start anew. But Zoe knows that some things can't be covered up with a coat of paint. And when she senses that one of her clients may be hiding a dark secret, she enlists P.I. Ethan Truax to find the truth.

Working together, they solve the mystery . . . and barely escape with their lives. But Ethan's exquisite detection skills are starting to backfire on Zoe: she never wanted to let him find out about her former life; she never wanted to reveal her powerful, inexplicable gift for sensing the history hidden within a house's walls; she never wanted him to know that "Zoe Luce" doesn't really exist. She never wanted to fall in love with him.

Now, no matter how much she resists, Ethan may be her only hope-because the people she's been running from have found her. And just when Zoe dares to dream of a normal life and a future with the man she loves, her own past starts to shadow her every step-and threatens to take her back into a nightmare.
This was actually pretty good. A B+, different from my keeper JAKs in that the relationship part wasn't as good, but the plotting was much better.

I'm not saying the romance wasn't good, because it was. Ethan and Zoe were interesting, likeable characters and I did see chemistry between them. It's just that their relationship lacked some urgency, that indefinable element that those JAKs that make my stomach clutch have in spades. Maybe part of the thing is that lately the author is concentrating on more mature characters, and their relationship are simply... calmer.

I especially liked that our protagonists are allowed to have faults. I mean, Romance-land seems to be populated by perfect beings; a guy who's been married and divorced 3 times and an escapee from a mental institution are not particularly easy to find.

I enjoyed the way Ethan was someone who wasn't at all suave or smooth. He was very much a guy, who sometimes said the wrong thing and made mistakes in relating to Zoe, but who at the same time was a terribly nice person and never a jerk. He reminded me a bit of another recent JAK hero: Thomas, from Smoke in Mirrors.

As for Zoe, I admired her courage and the way she stood up for what she thought was right and took responsability for rescuing herself when needed, and still knew when to ask for help. I also appreciated the fact that she had deeply loved her first husband: none of that demonizing of the first spouse to make the new love interest look better. That's a lazy way of writing, and I don't like it :-)

Where JAK seems to have improved a lot here is in the plotting. We have a suspense subplot here that was engaging, with the focus not so much on the suspense (the sources of physical danger are resolved pretty early in the book and never seem particularly physically threatening) as on the mystery, which is the way I prefer it.

The atmosphere was also outstanding, especially the way the mental institution Zoe escaped from was described. Talk about creepy! And also, there was a very nifty, interesting mystery from the past that Ethan is investigating, which I liked quite a bit. It was a nice touch.

As a negative, I'd point out that Zoe's "psychic powers", the way she can perceive feelings from the walls of rooms in which certain events have happened, were insufficiently exploited in the book. I was left wanting more of this element.

I must also mention that Light in Shadow is the first in a series that continues with Truth or Dare. Luckily, I knew it before I read it, because I guess otherwise I would have felt bothered by the way the ending lacks some closure (as happened to me when I first read this author's After Dark). Knowing it will continue, I can take it differently, though I know this isn't something that should affect my feelings.


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