The Man on the Cliff
by Janice Macdonald
(Harl. Super. #1077, $5.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-71077-1
***
Ah, but here is a tough one to know where ta rate it. (That’s my poor attempt at an Irish brogue). The Man on the Cliff is both a good romance and full of suspense. It is more suspense than romance, but it is also full of less than happy people, and there’s the rub.

The setting is small village on the coast of Ireland where it is always raining and chilly. Niall Maguire is a solitary man who lives in a dreary castle up on the cliffs; hence he is the man in the title. He is suspected of murdering his first wife, Moruadh, pronounced Mora, a popular songwriter and singer, but he was never arrested, and officially her death is listed as an accident. She fell, it seems, from those cliffs to the sea.

Now Niall has secrets, and has always held himself aloof from the other villagers, moving to University then to Paris before returning to the Ireland he loves. He makes his living as a photographer, often working with models, and it is assumed he sleeps with them too.

On the day he is to meet a student of his on the cliffs, he comes upon an American woman, lost trying to find the B&B in the village of Cragg’s Head. He startles her, enjoys a fascinating conversation and sends her on her way. He is drawn to her red hair, pale skin and freckles. She is enchanted, too.

Kate Neeson is in Cragg’s Head to write a freelance magazine article about Moruadh’s death. She had written an article about Moruadh and they had talked on the phone often. Moruadh liked to call and they would lament the sorry state of the male species, and Kate feels a kinship to her. She comes to Ireland to discover the truth.

And she immediately uncovers more than she bargains for. First, she finds out Moruadh was married to Niall, a fact she had failed to share. Then, the young student Niall is supposed to meet, Elizabeth, is found dead near the same place as Moruadh. The locals all point at Niall.

So what is a girl to do? Kate decides to follow her intuition and gets to know Niall, breaking down his barriers and learning his secrets. They have fun together, traipsing over the hills, and into the bogs. Kate struggles with her feelings and instincts, which tell her Niall is no killer, versus the evidence from the villagers, all telling her to watch out, and be careful.

The suspense builds nicely, although the truth is fairly easily to guess. The “getting there” is written well, with some moments of uncertainty as to the outcome. The romance builds at a much slower pace and really plays second fiddle to the suspense. Being engaged in the whole story helped me to feel connected with Niall and Kate and thus their romance. Since the story happens in just a few short weeks, the pace is steady and doesn’t seemed too rushed until right at the end.

The climax of the story comes down to love, trust, and sacrifice. It is easy to get caught up in the magic of Ireland, particularly the few glimpses of the mystical that is always present in this setting. It is a good combination for a winning story.

My only real complaint is that the characters are morose and depressed much of the time. I know that sounds silly, but there it is. Moraudh was a manic-depressive. Hugh drinks and wallows in self-pity. Annie is ever the pessimist. Niall is the brooding hero, shutting himself off when Kate starts to get too close. And Kate borders on the edge of whiny at times, lamenting the lack of fulfillment in her “real” life in Santa Monica.

So, there you go. I liked it, and offer it to you with these words of wisdom. If you are looking for a change-of-pace, suspense-filled romance and don’t mind a story that borders on the depressing side, The Man on the Cliff is just the ticket.

--Shirley Lyons


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