Cover of Night, by Linda Howard

>> Friday, August 11, 2006

With each new book, Linda Howard's Romantic Suspense titles seem to be moving more and more towards Suspense. So why am I still reading? Simply because even with less space, the romance is still good, and because her suspense is pretty interesting. Her latest release is Cover of Night.

And speaking of covers, I do like this look her last books have got going for them. It's sexy and, at the same time, not too explicit. In this case, though, it might be a bit too sexy for this particular book.

In the charming rural town of Trail Stop, Idaho, accessible to the outside world by only a single road, young widow Cate Nightingale lives peacefully with her four-year-old twin boys, running a bed-and-breakfast. Though the overnight guests are few and far between–occasional hunters and lake fishermen–Cate always manages to make ends meet with the help of the local jack-of-all-trades, Calvin Harris, who can handle everything from carpentry to plumbing. But Calvin is not what he seems, and Cate’s luck is about to run out.

One morning, the B&B’s only guest inexplicably vanishes, leaving behind his personal effects. A few days later Cate is shocked when armed men storm the house, demanding the mystery man’s belongings. Fearing for her children’s lives, Cate agrees to cooperate–until Calvin saves the day, forcing the intruders to scatter into the surrounding woods.

The nightmare, however, is just beginning. Cate, Calvin, and their entire community find themselves cut off and alone with no means to call for help as the threat gathers intensity and first blood is drawn.

With their fellow residents trapped and the entire town held hostage, Cate and Calvin have no choice but to take the fight to their enemies under the cover of night. While reticent Cal becomes a fearless protector, Cate makes the most daring move of her life... into the very heart of danger.
Cover of Night continues the trend I mentioned above... more and more emphasis on the suspense, but with romance that's still good. And since the suspense was pretty entertaining as well, I very much enjoyed the whole thing. A B+.

After the death of her husband, Cate Nightingale took her toddler sons and settled in the very remote small tiny town of Trail Stop and took over the local B&B. She's been living there ever since, and as the book starts, she has only recently began really coming out of mourning.

Cate has been so out of it for the past few years, that she hasn't even noticed that Cal Harris is crazy about her. To Cate, Cal is simply the town handyman, the painfully shy man who can't seem to string two sentences together in front of her, but who is happy enough to fix whatever goes wrong in her house and not charge her too much.

Things start to change when one morning Cate realizes that one of her guests has escaped his room through a window, leaving all his stuff behind. Cate can't think of what might have caused that strange, strange behaviour, and she becomes even more worried when she receives a call purportedly from the car rental agency, inquiring about the man, and then happens to find out that the agency never actually called her at all. Shortly after which, a man she suspects might be the same caller, calls to make a reservation for two other men.

Realizing that Cate suspects them, the two new "guests" (who are actually assassins hired to get rid of the mystery man) decide to throw caution to the winds and hold her and her friend at gunpoint until they give up the runaway man's belongings. But fortunately Cal shows up and behaves in a way Cate would never have expected of him, humiliating the hired killers and chasing them away.

But these guys aren't too happy about being humiliated, and soon make a plan to get back at that damned handyman and get what they were looking for: they will take the whole town hostage!

CON was an incredibly absorbing story. The action takes place over only a few days, and there aren't any lulls. Not that the plot proceeds at breakneck speed... the pace of the story is actually quite leisurely, but, if it makes sense, the intensity just builds and builds. My absolutely favourite kind!

It helps that the book didn't have a humdrum plot I've read a thousand times before, but one that felt fresh and original. As much as I always want more of the romance, I was so intrigued by what was going on and so anxious to know what was going to happen next and how things would turn out, that I even liked the scenes from the villains' POV.

That's just unprecedented for me, because I usually hate that. More than one book (coughRunning Scaredcough)has been almost ruined by too much time spent in the villains' heads. I think what made the difference here (in addition to the intriguing plot) was that the villains were well drawn. No moustache-twirling eeeeevil guys in sight, no villains out to harm the heroine just because they're so, well, eeeeevil. What we have here is the scarily believable: amoral men out for a buck and not caring that they will hurt innocent people.

I've heard people say that the whole plan was so stupid that they lost interest. Well, yeah, the plan was stupid, but see, all but one of the villains *knew* it was stupid, and had their own reasons and agendas which motivated them to carry it out anyway. That whole deal with competing agendas, and having them actually working against each other in some cases, made all the difference in making things believable and added quite a bit of interest to these scenes. Therefore, I didn't mind at all spending time with these guys and seeing their interactions.

But we don't just spend time with the villains. We spend even more time inside the town and with our main characters, and the romance soon heats up. I would have liked more of that (but not by sacrificing any other bits... maybe I just wanted a longer book? Hmm, maybe not, as that would ruin the taut feel of the whole story... Bah, forget I said anything), but what romance we did get was fantastic.

Cal was the main reason it was so great. I just adored this guy. He reminded me a lot of Diaz, from Cry No More: quiet and almost shy, and yet an extremely competent man who knows what he's doing and is actually incredibly tough. I like this type of LH hero, this combination between tough and shy, soooo much more than her oversexed he-men!

And Cate was none too shabby, either. I loved her reactions when she started to realize she had missed so many clues that Cal wasn't quite what he seemed, and I even bought completely that she'd fall for him so hard and so fast. I think Howard was very right in taking the tack she took with Cate's kids, because otherwise I don't think I'd have been able to believe the romance quite so easily.

Any quibbles? Well, the secondary romance was promising, too, but while the beginning and ending were nice, Howard just skipped the entire middle. Even *one* tiny scene in between would have made the difference. As it is, it was nice, but undeveloped, and that final scene felt awkwardly placed.

Other than this, CON is a wonderful book. When's the next one coming?


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