A Cry in the Night

Fade to Red

The Shadow Side

Depth Perception by Linda Castillo
(Berkley, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-20109-0
In this romantic suspense novel, two former residents of Bellerose, Louisiana, return to confront past tragedies and present danger.

Natalie Jennings was married to a minister, Ward Ratcliffe; together they had a young son Kyle. Ward was the son of a famous televangelist, and the Ratcliffes never accepted her because she was from a lower social class.

Three years ago in the middle of the night, Ward and Kyle were murdered, and Nat was wounded by an intruder. Because her fingerprints were on the knife and her injuries could have been self-inflicted, she was arrested for the murders. While in jail, she tried to commit suicide. She spent the next two and one-half years in a coma. When she regained consciousness, she discovered she had developed psychic abilities. During periods of psychogenic epilepsy, she engages in automatic writing. The handwriting is the same as Kyle’s. Her son is communicating with her from the beyond. He is sending messages about his death and danger to other children. Kyle wasn’t the only child the bad man killed, and he is still in town. One of the earlier victims was Brandon, Nick Bastille’s son.

Nick Bastille had moved to New Orleans to make a name in the restaurant business. Betrayed by his wife and business partner, he was convicted of the arson of his own restaurant that resulted in a death. His wife and son returned to Bellerose. His wife divorced him, and Brandon drowned while he was still in prison. Nick has believed it was an accident made possible by his ex-wife’s inattentive mothering and drunkenness. Now paroled, he’s back in Bellerose where he gets a job as a bartender at a seedy bar, The Blue Gator. His surly father is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and the work around the farm has fallen to Nick.

Nat approaches Nick hoping to get his assistance in identifying the killer of their sons, but Nick is not receptive. Not until another little boy goes missing, and communicating through his mother, Kyle gives clues to the boy’s whereabouts.

Depth Perception is a complexly plotted romantic suspense with several subplots, but it is not without problems. One thing that bothered me about Nat (besides her small insect nickname) is that she repeatedly says she’s had three years to come to terms with the changes in her life, but she spent two and one-half of those in a coma. Wouldn’t that delay the coming-to-terms process?

It also bothered me that she was charged with murder before her attempted suicide, but she shows up in town without fear she’s about to be tossed in the pokey again. It makes sense that the prosecution wouldn’t proceed while she in a coma (that tends to interfere with the defendant’s ability to assist in her defense), but there is no statute of limitations on murder and the suicide attempt could be seen as evidence of guilt. What’s more, Ward was having an affair with his secretary, and Nat was beneficiary of his insurance policy. Nevertheless, she appears to be off the hook as far as criminal charges are concerned, but there’s no explanation of how and why. Inexplicably, she’s also taken back her maiden name, but no one expresses surprise or mistakes her identity.

Moreover, it bothered me that Nat seems to believe she cannot share her psychic information with the police. Sure, they’re going to doubt it at first, but she manages to convince her childhood friend and Nick. Since her actions seem irrational at times without this knowledge, it’s no wonder the townsfolk think she’s a menace.

One question that arises is why Kyle doesn’t inform his mom from the get-go who murdered him and his daddy. There’s a very brief explanation, but it isn’t very convincing. The obvious reason, of course, is that the book would become a short story without the villain still being on the loose, but that doesn’t serve to answer as plot motivation.

Romance takes a back seat to the suspense in this book. Nat and Nick admire each other’s physical attributes – it’s repeatedly stressed that Nick is struck by her “haunted eyes” – but the romance never comes alive.

Like so many other Gothic-inspired tales set in Louisiana, Depth Perception is steeped in gloom and doom. This is a dark story with troubled characters and a sinister tone. It is the kind of book Sandra Brown might have written – Southern dysfunctional family with lots of angst, buried secrets, and lurid passion. Her fans might want to check it out.

--Lesley Dunlap

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