Beneath the Raven's Moon
by Emily LaForge
(Pocket, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-743-456-130
***
More gothic suspense than romance, Beneath the Raven's Moon captured my attention, but failed to provide enough character development and romance to be truly satisfying.

Catherine Carmichael is a concert pianist in London. As a child she lived in her grandfather's gothic mansion in upstate New York. When she was five years old, Catherine's father mysteriously disappeared and her mother whisked her away to safety, never to return. All her mother will tell her is that Ravenswood is evil and her Uncle Malcom is a "demented bastard."

Years later, Catherine still suffers anxiety attacks based on long buried secrets she can't remember. So, when she receives a letter that her uncle, a famous horror writer, has died and she must return to Ravenswood for the reading of his will, she is not eager to go. She ends up going with the hopes of uncovering the secrets that haunt her so she can rid herself of their torment.

Catherine arrives at the castle and meets the other people who have been called to Ravenswood. There is her uncle's agent and one-time lover Madeleine, his bitter, illegitimate son Billy and handsome Hollywood actor Everett Steele. Guess which one she falls for?

It isn't long before the group finds out they are victims of Malcom's last nasty trick. He has arranged a cruel game where he threatens to reveal each person's deepest secret unless they find the clues he has left for them. The prize is his estate and, more important to Catherine, the answers to all the secrets of Ravenswood.

The story is told in first person, present tense narrative. It is especially effective in creating a tense, edge of your seat mood. Both the main character and the reader breathlessly anticipate each event. The first person point of view also makes for a quick read, feeling as if the character is in conversation with the reader.

The downside to this point view, however, is that Catherine is the only character we really get to know. All the other characters are only seen as she sees them, making them less developed and harder to warm up to. The secondary characters in particular suffer from this point of view, coming off as caricatures. Everett is slightly less so, but still ends up rather one sided.

Despite being the one character the reader is close to, Catherine is not a very effective heroine. She is wishy washy and far too willing to let people take advantage of her. Although understandable to a point because of her past, the reader wishes she'd show a little more backbone. Catherine needs to demand information from her mother, and should have done so far earlier in her life. Instead, Catherine seems content to suffer panic attacks and years of therapy simply because she refuses to confront her mother for the truth until it's nearly too late.

There is no faulting the suspense in this novel. It may not be the most original plot in the world, but it certainly keeps the reader going. I was reluctant to put the book down for too long in my curiosity to know just what was going on. Unfortunately, the effect is utterly ruined by an over the top conclusion that spoils what was previously good.

Throughout this book I was reminded of gothic suspense novels such as the early works of V.C. Andrews, and I mean those she actually wrote, not the stuff that was churned out after her death. Fans of that type of story will not be disappointed by Beneath the Raven's Moon.

--Anne Bulin


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