Deep Midnight by Shannon Drake
(Zebra, $6.99, PG-13 ) ISBN 0-8217-6837-9
**
During Carnevale in Venice, the city becomes more exotic and mysterious. American Jordan Riley, visiting her cousin and his wife, is swept up in the sights and sounds of the place. But when she witnesses death and everyone around her swears it was merely some macabre entertainment, Jordan begins to wonder what secrets are being hidden in this place.

Jordan has already known tragedy in her life with her fiancťís death and she has learned that people can do evil things. Now she begins to study just what strange events might be going on before her. As she tries to decide whether she can trust the mysterious Ragnor, who saves her but is always around when there is trouble, Jordan realizes there are fewer and fewer people she feels safe with. Even more frighteningly, Jordan begins to suspect there is something very odd about the people around her who keep dying.

Sheís right, of course. This is a book about vampires. Not just one vampire or two . .. there are legions of vampires. The mysterious evil that visits Jordan and the sex/death inherent in what vampires do has its allure. But then the reader becomes aware that vampires are starting to outnumber non-vampires in this story. Even worse, the few humans around either get killed off or turned into vampires. By the time this story finishes everyone must be aware there isnít going to be much fresh blood left in Venice. A few vampires are scary and decadent and interesting. Too many vampires are a crowd.

Gradually this book topples over from the weight of everything it has to carry. The romance between Ragnor and Jordan gets overshadowed by the feud Ragnor has with the bad vampires of the book. That gets overwhelmed by the history of the feud. Vampires live a long time and Ragnor has not one but two nemeses to be explained. That isnít enough. The story is one of a series and more and more characters from previous books keep getting introduced to the story. When Jordan finally has everything explained to her by Ragnor and the good vampires, she keeps knocking back drinks. By then the reader wants to sit down and join her.

This book was disappointing as a romance and as a horror story. Jordan starts off feisty and inquisitive. Ragnor, the mysterious sexy man who enters her life, seems both protective and frightening. But the romance between them doesnít seem as hot as the love/hate Ragnor feels for the evil vampire Contessa and the even more evil brother he spends generations battling.

The horror element also starts promisingly but only so many vampires and dead bodies can appear in one story before the terror switches off. The lesser vampires are almost like video game characters: they swarm around only so a good guy can kill them off. And, finally, only so much suspension of disbelief can happen in one story. There are just too many vampires to get scared by them all.

The author is talented and experienced so itís too bad that Deep Midnight goes for the more is better theory of horror. If the tension between Jordan and Ragnor had been closer to the central part of the story and the quantity of vampires and death had lowered, then maybe the romance-horror mix would have worked better.

--Irene Williams


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