Night of the Blackbird
by Heather Graham
(Mira, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN1-55166-812-2
***
There are two kinds of suspense novels. In the first, the author keeps the reader guessing as to who the villain is. In the second, the reader is aware of the identity of the villain or villains and the author manages to create a fear that somehow things will go awry. Both take considerable skill to pull off and both have their own conventions. In the case of the first - Night of the Blackbird fits this category - there must be a credible danger and there must be credible alternative candidates for villainy. Unfortunately, Graham doesn’t quite meet these requirements.

The mood is set in the prologue when a young boy watches as his father and young sister are murdered in the streets of Belfast. Night at the Blackbird will deal with the ongoing “troubles” of Northern Ireland.

The heroine is Moira Kelly, the hostess and co-producer of a successful travel show on a cable network. Moira is the daughter of two Irish immigrants who run a successful pub in Boston. Thanks to her mother’s gentle blackmail, she finds herself planning to do a show about the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in her hometown. She and her production crew - including her new flame, Michael McLean - head for Boston. Moira is a bit perturbed that her old flame, Dan O’Hara, will be visiting the family for the holiday.

Moira had loved Dan most of her life, but the mercurial Irishman had been unwilling or unable to settle down, so Moira had moved on. Michael seems the opposite of her past love. He is hardworking, stable, handsome and reliable. While she has only known him for a few months, Moira wonders if he might be the one and she also wonders how she will feel when she sees Danny again.

The reader soon becomes aware that there is danger lurking at Kelly’s Pub. There are cryptic warnings and whispered conversations. Moira overhears someone talking outside and lands on the ice. Did she slip or was she pushed. An old denizen of the bar dies unexpectedly. Moira’s brother Patrick is behaving strangely. Is the Irish charity he’s gotten involved with on the up and up? What exactly is going on?

And, indeed, that is the question that the book never quite answers. Clearly there is a plot afoot to assassinate an important moderate Irish leader. Clearly, Kelly’s Pub has something to do with it. But why? Exactly what has the pub to do with this nasty business? Since this is never made at all clear, the whole story makes no sense and this reader was left scratching her head. Why are they trying to kill Moira? Why is someone murdering prostitutes? Why is Patrick behaving strangely? There are simply too many whys, too many holes in the suspense plot.

Other parts of Night at the Blackbird are more satisfactory. The dynamics of a sprawling, loving Irish family are enjoyable. The portrayal of the friendly Irish pub is fun. The bits of Irish lore and legend are integrated nicely into the tale, as are the requisite statements about the tragedy of Irish politics.

I can’t really say much about the romance or even identify the hero, because that would be a spoiler. Obviously, no romance author worth her salt is going to have her heroine be intimate with a villain, so, once the love scene occurs, the reader knows who the villain must be. Still, I can say that the romance works quite well.

With all the problems I had with the suspense plot, you may be asking why I’m not saying “Think Twice” about Night at the Blackbird.. The fact is that my problems with the book did not arise until the end, when I realized that there were so very many loose ends and inconsistencies. Till then, I was enjoying myself. So I must rate Graham’s latest as “acceptable.”

--Jean Mason


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