A Cry in the Night

Depth Perception

Fade to Red

The Shadow Side

A Whisper in the Dark
by Linda Castillo
(Berkley Sensation, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-21138-X
Don't you hate it when a novel with a great premise, tight writing and a gruesome villain goes to pot because of a dud of a hero and a give-away mystery? That, in a nutshell, is the tragic fate of A Whisper in the Dark.

By day, Julia Wainright runs an upscale secondhand bookshop in New Orleans's French Quarter (pre Katrina, I believe); by night, she writes erotica. Her father is a minister. Since he is up for the directorship of his church, she's been very careful not to let anyone know she is Elisabeth de Havilland. Someone has found out anyway and is stalking her. Unaware of her double life, her father hires John Merrick, a former Chicago cop and the son of an old family friend, to protect her.

John isn't sure he wants the job; he isn't even sure he can do it. See, several months ago, John accidentally shot and killed an undercover DEA agent on a drug bust. He's been cleared of homicide, but he still can't get over it. Yes, what happened to him is horrible. Yes, it's difficult to put it behind. And yes, I like heroes in need of (self)forgiveness as much as the next reader. But John Merrick is truly unbearable. When he's not cursing the fact that he's killed a man, widowed his wife and orphaned his children, he's downing a bottle of whiskey. When he's not bemoaning his inability to protect Julia, he's coming to terms with a really bad hangover. "Are you sure he's competent?" Julia's sister, among others, asks after several such incidents. Gee, what do you think?

Then, there's the fact that John immediately lusts for Julia, but of course he knows he isn't good enough for her. Does he walk away? Nope. First, he throws jealous tantrums about the other men in her life. Then, he shows up at a party for family and friends and insists on speaking with her - in private if you please. To give her the low down on his investigation? Nope. To demand some pretty intensive tongue-to-tongue action. I guess he's not too worried about preacher dad.

There's not much of a romance. Julia goes straight from lusting for John to sleeping with him to deciding she's in love. She must think herself the healing type because I can't figure out where else the attraction lies. Then again, she isn't exactly the brightest light around. She does that too stupid to live thing and walks out, at night, by herself, with her cell phone off. (Okay, she does carry a can of mace and packs a really good kick, but that isnít enough, not with some loco stalking her.)

John somehow manages to stay out of a drunken stupor long enough to figure out a thing or two. He even manages to chase down a red herring. The real criminal, however, is pretty obvious. He's as nasty as they come, and readers with weak stomachs should probably stay away. That is, if they aren't already turned off by the self-destructive hero.

Castillo can write though. Do you think we could send the book back and ask her to start all over again?

--Mary Benn

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