Out of the Night by Robin T. Popp
(Warner Forever, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61626-5
****
Sophomore author Robin T. Popp hops on the vampire bandwagon with Out of the Night, a tale of a librarian who sets out to find her lost father in the Amazon jungle, aided by a sexy pilot. An inventive twist with the plot makes this more than the standard vampire fare.

Lanie Weber, librarian and volunteer firefighter, has received word from a trusted source that her scientist father is dead. Not wanting to believe it until she identifies his body, Lanie charters a plane to fly her down to the Amazon compound where her father, a cryptozoologist, was researching mysterious jungle creatures. Michael “Mac” Knight is the pilot, and when Lanie gets a look at the battered plane he intends to fly, she nearly changes her mind. But as Mac explains, the only people flying into that area of the Amazon are DEA agents and drug dealers, so it’s better if they look like poor livestock haulers.

One shot of drug-laced tequila later, Lanie is out cold and Mac is underway. When she wakes up, they’re landing in Brazil. A trip to the scientists’ compound seems to confirm all of Lanie’s worst fears – what they find are five dead men with puncture wounds in their necks. There is little time to investigate their deaths before a mysterious statue comes to life and attacks. It’s El Chupacabra, a legendary creature nicknamed “the goat-sucker”, and it bites Mac in the neck. Lanie manages to save his life, but what will happen to Mac now?

Lanie and Mac soon discover that other humans have also been bitten, and the effects are more sinister than they feared – especially when the dead men seem to have simply walked away and vanished. It seems that El Chupacabra transforms humans into vampires – if the bite is severe enough. If not, it simply transmits healing powers. Which side of the line Mac will fall on remains to be seen. In the midst of all this, Lanie and Mac find themselves fighting a powerful attraction. And the vampires would like them dead.

With this intriguing plot setup, Ms. Popp pulls the reader right into the story. The action is fast-paced, as Lanie and Mac try to stay one step ahead of the vampires. The idea of a gargoyle-type creature that turns to stone in sunlight and comes to life only at night is suitably creepy, and the mysterious Amazon jungle is the perfect setting for a story like this. My initial fear that this would be a tiresome “plucky librarian haring off into danger” story turned out to be unfounded, because Lanie is no shrinking violet. She’s capable, smart, and more than willing to get down and dirty to help those she cares about. Her efforts to uncover the truth about her father are aided by the military, giving the story a bit more plausibility in that respect.

Mac is a reluctant hero with an overtone of ennui, and his adventure with Lanie certainly brings out the best in his character. Their romance heats up nicely, and the ending is a doozy. Even late in the game, Ms. Popp delivers a surprise or two. You might look twice at the next statue you pass.

Out of the Night is going to have great appeal for romance readers who love stories with a paranormal twist. If that’s your taste, be sure to pick up a copy.

--Cathy Sova


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