Dead Opposites, by Bethany Campbell

>> Monday, April 09, 2007

I've read two books by Bethany Campbell. Child's Play, a very dark romantic suspense from 1992, was pretty good, while A Thousand Roses a more "romancey" book from 1986 was horrible. Fortunately, Dead Opposites seemed nearer the former, so I had high hopes for it.

Eerie sounds...

...that went bump in the night were part of Hawthorne Tower's history. When Ginnie Price heard rumors that the building was haunted, she decided it was time to move. But her decision was made too late. For when she arrived home one evening, she found more than an empty apartment.

Ex-Marine Wayne Priborski was starting his life over, alone, and didn't want to know his neighbors at Hawthorne Towers. However, he had no choice after encountering Ginnie stumbling down the marble staircase of the old Victorian building, unable to stand, fright evident in her eyes as she numbly told him there was a dead body in her bathtub.
As a total sucker for gothics and horror-tinged romance, the plot and setting of DO really appealed to me. I wasn't that enthused by the characters, but still liked the book in spite of that. A B.

In gothics, you usually have a mysterious, possibly haunted big house. DO has an appartment building as its improbable setting, and yet Campbell makes it work wonderfully.

The appartment buiding in question is Hawthorne Towers, in the isolated outskirts of a New Hampshire city, right next to the woods. Ginnie Prince moved in after her divorce, taking the first job and appartment she could find in the area, but after only a few months there, she wants nothing more than to move out. The places freaks her out completely, with its creepy atmosphere, its strange noises in the middle of the night and its uncomfortable isolation.

However, when Ginnie takes the first step to get out of the place and goes off to a job interview in Maine, things suddenly become a lot scarier. A blizzard has her turning around and going back home before she reaches her destination, and when she enters her appartment, there's a dead body in the bathtub.

Obviously, the minute Ginnie can move again, she runs out to ask her neighbours for help. But when she returns, help in tow, it's to find the bathtub empty. And then the police find no traces of anyone having been messing around in Ginnie's appartment.

The only one to believe that something could have happened is one of the neighbours, former Marine Wayne Priborski. Wayne really isn't interested in getting involved. After the wound that made him resign from the armed forces rather than take a desk job, he just wants to be left alone to brood. But though he'd love to believe this is all just Ginnie's overactive imagination at work, he's seen certain details that don't make sense in the scene...

It's an intriguing setup, and the plot that develops is just as interesting. Things keep happening around Ginnie, and with every additional incident, the tension ratchets up. Campbell makes excellent use of the setting to do this. Hawthorne Towers has a long and disturbing history, and Ginnie and Wayne's investigation into it plays a large part in their discovering the truth.

This is a book with very good pacing, though I suspect that it might seem slow to readers who prefer fast-paced action. The truth emerges slowly, bit by bit, narrated in a style that verges on the melodramatic, but is very effective anyway. And when we finally find out what was going on, it's a very cool, imaginative solution, and one that ties up all loose ends.

But this is Romantic Suspense, and the first half of this label didn't work as well as the second. Ginnie and Wayne never interested me particularly, and I just didn't see any chemistry between them. Campbell tries to add some layers there, drawing up a conflict of personalities between the pacifist Ginnie and the military Wayne, but though that could have been pretty interesting, it didn't really go anywhere.

Well, at least the protagonists felt like three-dimensional characters, because the secondary characters didn't. Maybe the villain, but most of the neighbours living in the apartment were cartoonish and acted in ways that left me scratching my head.

Read this one for the suspense. It's much better than a ton of suspense subplots I've read in single titles.


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