Bump in the Night anthology (J.D. Robb et al)

>> Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I got Bump in the Night for the same reason 99% of its buyers must have: because it contains the new In Death story, by J.D. Robb. However, unlike in the other anthologies containing In Death short stories, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the other entries were pretty ok.

BTW, I wouldn't be surprised if my reviews of the last two stories feel a bit more unfocused than those of the first two. I did my best, but this was the ebook I was reading as I left for Japan, two months ago. The first two stories I'd already finished, and I'd written my review, but the last two I'm just writing right now, and after all that time, some details are a bit hazy.

The Big Author starts out the book, and Haunted in Death sets up what will be the tone of the rest of the stories. What is that tone? Just take a look at the story's title! This was a creepy little ghost story, and a very effective one. Robb turns up the chills as Eve investigates a murder in a a building supposed to be haunted since the murder of a famous singer was suspected to have taken place there in the 60s.

When the grandson of the suspected murderer turns up dead in such a retro way as bullet wounds, and someone seems to be setting things up to make it seem as if it was the singer's ghost taking revenge, Eve is offended that anyone would think she'd fall for something like that. But the haunting seems a little too real.

It's a simple case, which works perfectly as a short story, and the ghost aspects add a nice edge to it. There are plenty of interesting possible suspects and even a bit of a discussion between Eve and Roarke, as they find themselves in opposite sides of the "is the woo-woo stuff real?" debate. A good, solid short story. Not brilliant, but enjoyable to read. A B.

Mary Blayney is one of the two authors in the anthology that I read here for the first time, and her story, Poppy's Coin, is the least paranormal of the lot. All that's paranormal is the coin of the title, which is one of those wishing coins which really do work. Sure, pretty paranormal, but it's just that this aspect is just a conceit, and doesn't really affect the essence of the story, just as the intro, which shows a young woman in the present, visiting an old house-museum and being told the story, and then allowed to make a wish on the coin herself.

What this IS really about is former soldier Major David Lindsay and widow Lady Grace Anderson. Lindsay came back from Waterloo to find himself practically penniless. Until he gets a bit of money by selling his commission (not particularly easy in peacetime), he has no way to take good care of his wards. He wishes on the magic coin for enjoyable and profitable employment, and an offer soon comes from Lady Grace, a widow who isn't interested in marriage and would like to pay Lindsay for being her escort, which would dissuade other suitors.

The main conflict here stems from Lindsay feeling torn between his attraction to Grace and his humiliation at being paid for his escorting her... which in his mind, makes anything between them other than pure business completely impossible. Grace, meanwhile, lived all her married life being treated as an object, so a relationship with the boundaries hers and Lindsay's has is the only way she can feel really comfortable. Not my favourite story of the bunch, basically because though the issues explored were interesting, Blayney did it in a way that felt a bit shallow.

Still, a pleasant read A B-.

Ruth Ryan Langan's The Passenger had probably the best atmosphere of all the stories. It also had a beginning that had me hopeful that this might be a real gem.

Josh Cramer is well-known for his high-risk stunts. If it sounds crazy and wild and dangerous, he does it. As the story starts, he is a bit tired after his latest adventure, but his agent insists he needs to go on another one immediately, so off Josh goes in a tiny airplane to a reputedly haunted lake.

Flying over this lake, however, the weirdness starts. First, an enigmatic woman (stowaway! Josh assumes) appears, and shortly afterwards, his plane crashes. He's rescued, strangely unharmed, by Grace Martin, a photographer sent by her magazine to get a story on the lake's famous ghost.

The setup was very exciting, but after this and a couple more creepy events, the story became almost boring. There was nothing wrong with Josh and Grace, they were perfectly nice people, but I didn't find them very interesting and the chemistry between them was pretty much nonexistent.

And that was the thing, really. I ended up having to struggle to finish the story, because I started something else in the middle (I was so miserable on that plane -I hate American Airlines!!!- that I needed to read something great to lessen the pain), and then I felt no motivation at all to go back to the story. A C+.

Mary Kay McComas closes the anthology with Mellow Lemon Yellow a story that can best be described as "different".

When Charlotte's father dies, she feels completely alone in the world. Her whole life had centred on her parents... she was their partner in their accounting business, she still lived in the same appartment as her dad, even free time was given to activities her parents had enjoyed. So now that they are both dead, she feels lost.

While sitting quietly in her dad's funeral, Charlotte notices a very weirdly dressed man come in (and when I say weird, I mean "ruby slippers and football pants" weird). He sits next to her and seems to know her, but she doesn't remember him. Even more strange, the other attendants to the funeral don't seem to notice anything strange.

After a few more baffling encounters, Charlotte discovers Mel's identity. It's quite a strange one and one that I won't reveal here, but the upshot is that Mel becomes Charlotte's best friend, and with his help, she comes out of the hole into which she'd been sinking for the past few years. Until it comes to a point in which Charlotte has to decide if she still needs Mel or if she's ready to go on on her own.

As I said, this story is quite different. I'm actually not sure if I'd qualify it as romance, and it isn't perfect, or even that good, but it's not predictable or clichéd, and McComas takes quite a few chances. Some of them work, some don't (like Charlotte's sexual feelings for Mel, which I thought were somewhat icky, if understandable). The thing is, I found it very entertaining. I had fun reading it, and it intrigued me, so a B from me!

With no stinkers, and three stories in the B range, I'd say this anthology is a very good deal. A B for the whole of it.


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