Watchers In The Night
by Jenna Black
(Tor, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-765-35451-9
****
Featuring a well-worn paranormal romance plot, Black’s debut, and first book in her “Guardians Of The Night” series, succeeds thanks to a well-matched couple and a fast moving vampire serial killer plot.

Former Philadelphia police detective, turned private investigator, Carolyn Mathers was unceremoniously dumped two days before her wedding three years ago. Gray James didn’t just leave Carolyn, he vanished into thin air. Not a trace of him to be found. It was Carolyn’s insistence on investigating his disappearance that led to her leaving the police force, and she’ been stuck in emotional limbo ever since. Then one night, Gray walks out of the shadows to rescue her from a mugger.

Gray disappeared three years ago because he’s a vampire. He was on his way home from his bachelor party when it happened, and after surviving hell, he severs all ties with the mortal world. Sort of. He can’t let Carolyn go and has taken to shadowing her – which brings him into contact with the Guardians. Vampires are killers, and one taste of human blood is enough to get them hopelessly addicted. The Guardians, while vampires, get by with things like lamb’s blood, and have made it their mission to protect humanity from rogue vampires. Gray isn’t a Guardian, having refused to join them, and his past makes certain members of the Guardians feel that he’s one step away from going rogue. So Gray is under surveillance a lot, and his “stalking” of Carolyn doesn’t look good for him.

Carolyn isn’t about to let Gray waltz into her life, rescue her, and then blithely walk away again. She wants answers, and having suffered through the last three years, feels she is entitled to them. But Gray isn’t talking, refusing to give her answers because it’s “for her own good.” However, Carolyn is nothing but persistent, as well as a good PI. Things get more complicated though when a killer starts stalking Philadelphia, a vampire (although the humans don’t know that) raping women and draining them of blood. The Guardians are at war, with a killer and each other, and all fingers seem to be pointed at Gray.

A group of vampire hunters who exist on the fringe of society – where have romance readers heard this before? And while it’s an idea with some mileage on it, Black makes it work thanks to her lead characters. So often in books of this type, the show is the hot Alpha vampire, and naturally the heroine dims a bit in his presence. Not so here, because while Carolyn isn’t immortal, she’s really Gray’s equal. She’s a former cop, now PI, and she can take care of herself. She’s a good investigator, knows how to handle a gun, and one gets the impression that if she could move on from Gray’s abandonment her life would be just about perfect.

While the Guardians are the framework for the book, Gray is an outsider. He’s a loner, who is barely tolerated, and not trusted. Frankly, one gets the feeling that he just wants to be left alone, and then the serial killer shows up and drags him into it. Given that the Guardians don’t trust Gray, he’s immediately prime suspect number one.

The romance here also exists a bit on the fringe. Black crams in a lot of story in this tale, with numerous secondary characters filling the pages – namely Jules, a Guardian who despises Gray, and Hannah, Carolyn’s spitfire best friend. And while the author does take focus off Gray and Hannah at times, all of these characters serve to not only set up the series, but to also keep the plot humming along. They aren’t empty page-fillers; they all serve a purpose in this story.

Readers who want a book solely wrapped around the romance aren’t going to find it here. Black gives us Carolyn and Gray, but she also gives readers a page turning plot surrounding the Guardians and a murderer. While vampire romances are a dime a dozen these days, Watchers In the Night works thanks to a nice gothic atmosphere, characters on equal footing, and a pleasing batch of secondary characters. They all might bicker quite a bit, but it succeeds in investing the reader in the hunt for the murderer, Gray’s reappearance in Carolyn’s life and ultimately the forthcoming series. This is a promising debut among a cluttered sub genre, and readers looking for an action-packed, plot-driven story will find themselves craving more.

--Wendy Crutcher


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