Moonrise, by Anne Stuart

>> Friday, September 05, 2003

I've just finished Moonrise, by Anne Stuart. This is a book I've had in my TBR pile for years and years; I bought it just after it came out, in 1996, but it never caught my attention. I finally remembered I had it after people in the AAR Message Boards started mentioning it as being one of Stuart's darkest, with a protagonist who's a real anti-hero.

Annie Sutherland is fast finding out her life was built on nothing but lies. Her father had been murdered. The former head of the CIA hit squad (though she does not know this), left her instructions,that she should seek out his former 'pet' James Mc Kinley...and man she thought she knew, and once even may have been falling in love with. Only nothing is as it seems, and nothing was as it seemed. James is holding up on an island. Gone is the conservative bureaucrat she adored, leaving her facing a tortured fugitive - but one that is armed and extremely dangerous.

Suddenly, the Texas accent is an Irish brogue, hinting he hold secrets that could mean her life. Annie and James are thrown together on a cross-country trek, which eventually leads to Ireland and back again to the US, all on the quest to solve the murder of her father. Is James a cherish lover or the man assigned to kill her?
I'm having some trouble grading this book. If I were reviewing for a pro site, I'd probably give it a good grade with a very strong warning in the text of the review that this is very, very definitely not for everyone. As it is, grading for my enjoyment of the book, it was a D.

My main problem was with James, the main protagonist (I hesitate to call him a hero). Discussing Anne Stuart's books, a friend told me she likes to know that the protagonists in romance novels are good people, even if they are flawed, and that with Stuart's characters she's never sure that they are. She hit the nail right on the head with that comment.

I didn't get the impression that there was anything of a conscience left alive in James after all those years as an assassin. I wouldn't call him "evil", as much as amoral. He's very definitely not a good person. This is a guy who's spent almost 20 years killing people, without any signs of remorse. Just following orders, like a machine. Can you tell I had a huge problem with that?

I just couldn't take how for a big part of the book James kept wondering if he should kill Annie. It's not that he thought he would enjoy it, he simply thought it might be necessary, and he was perfectly ready to do it. It was awful. He'd look at her and think about how easy it would be to snap her neck, and how it wasn't going to hurt, or look at her sleeping and imagine her as a corpse. I couldn't handle it, and it was an early sign that this wasn't going to be for me.

There was something about the depiction of James job that bothered me. It's implied that what he did was a dirty job, but a necessary one, and that someone had to do it. The problem is that Win has started selling the services of his team to other bidders, so some of the targets weren't... let's say: legitimate. And which targets were legitimate? Among others (terrorists, dictators), "people who would interfere with the US' best interests abroad". This offends me.

Ok, moving on before I start to rant. Another thing that I have low tolerance for is a close relationship between violence / death and eroticism. This relationship is so close in Moonrise, that there's practically no daylight between them. I won't say that the sex scenes weren't erotic, but they were a kind of erotic I'm not comfortable with.

Annie was a character I didn't like very much, basically because she had allowed her father to completely dominate her. He owned her, while he was alive. He picked her clothes, her interests, her men, everything. And she didn't even realize, and when she gets a glimmer of what had been happening (well after he's dead and she's out of his influence), she doesn't even get angry about it. She's perfectly satisfied with this state of affairs.

As far as the romance is concerned, I didn't like it. The main thing James' attracted to in Annie is her innocence. She's actually a strong person here, even if she allows her father to control her from beyond the grave, but it's not that strength that James finds attractive, but her innocence. Something else that I disliked was how James treated Annie. He was ready to have sex with her in order to control and manipulate her better (and discusses it very clinically with her ex-husband, eek!). He drugs her without her knowledge, he handles her roughly, he tortures her by allowing her to believe he's going to kill her for a very long time...

I did believe by the end of the book that James had some feelings for Annie, but I don't think I could define them. Love? I don't think this guy can love. Thankfully, Stuart doesn't include any mushy, sentimental scenes in the end, and the ending goes well with the story.

Finally, the plot. I liked that it concentrated more than I thought it would on the relationship than on the danger. I thought at first that it was going to be a full-out run-for-your-lives thriller, but there were few action scenes and they didn't overpower the relationship development. However, I did guess the two big plot twists (who the villain was and the other twist; you'll know what I mean if you read the book) almost from the beginning.

Even though I haven't enjoyed either of the two Anne Stuarts I've read (the other one was Blue Sage), I won't give up on her just yet. My friend (the same one I mentioned earlier) liked two of them (A Rose at Midnight and Lord of Danger, both keepers of Mrs. Giggles'), so I'll be trying those as soon as I can.

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