Calling Susan Andersen’s first published novel a “classic masterwork” is a bit of a stretch, but I guess the Avon publicity department has to do its job. Andersen’s current fans will enjoy this reissue, but be warned that it reads very much like a debut and has its share of weaknesses. If you need your Andersen fix now and can’t wait until 2003 for her next new release, Shadow Dance may placate you for a while.
He’s a hard-nosed, loner cop who is sent to Reno, Nevada to catch the “Showgirl Slayer.” She’s a dancer from a wealthy family who manages to appear prim and proper even when she’s onstage. As Avril Lavigne sings, “Can I make it any more obvious?” From their first encounter at the morgue, where she has been summoned to identify the latest victim, Amanda Rose Charles is disturbed by Tristan MacLaughlin’s coldness. An orphan who was raised in Scotland, MacLaughlin never becomes personally involved with people he meets while investigating a case. But following a few heated encounters with the leggy blonde, MacLaughlin is ready to throw his professionalism out the window. Amanda, who is used to keeping people at an emotional and physical distance, wonders why she can’t control her baser urges around the Lieutenant. But giving in to their attraction might be a deadly idea, as the killer’s focus suddenly turns to Amanda.
Andersen notes, on her website, that she has slightly re-worked Shadow Dance from its original version, making minor changes involving pacing and tenses. Unfortunately, it still reads like a beginner’s novel - albeit one from a gifted beginner. The main characters engage in way too much self-analysis and introspection at the expense of plot action, especially in the book’s first half. The story line would have been enriched by more subplots and well-developed secondary characters. The point of view changes from paragraph to paragraph, causing literary whiplash for the reader. The police procedural work is so vague that it is laughable, and it’s no surprise when Amanda ends up face-to-face with the killer.
MacLaughlin and Amanda have vivid chemistry together, but it’s easier to believe that the sexy detective awakens Amanda’s dormant passion than to have faith that they have fallen in love forever. And while Andersen makes a point to explain why the naturalized American MacLaughlin maintains his Scottish burr, it’s still disconcerting to hear a hard-boiled policeman say things like “Aye, lass, you’re verra bonny.” I kept thinking I had wandered into a time-travel novel by mistake.
On the positive side, the dance aspect is well-developed, the Slutty Best Friend is entertaining (I can forgive Andersen because back in 1989 the SBF wasn’t yet a cliché), and the love scenes sizzle.
Of all of the books that have been re-released since Andersen first hit it big with Baby I’m Yours, Shadow Dance is my least favorite. Whether you want to pay seven bucks to see her early mistakes is up to you, but I’m not sorry I bought it. While it’s obvious that Andersen has learned a lot about her craft in 13 years, it’s also apparent that she started out with a great deal of raw talent.