Night to Remember by Niqui Stanhope
(Arabesque, $4.99, G) ISBN: 0-7860-0477-0
**
Night to Remember is the first novel of Los Angeles writer Niqui Stanhope. It is a "big lie" story in which a major character tells a lie that takes on a life of its own and continues throughout the novel.

Alana Britton, a member of a socially and politically prominent Guyanese family, is returning home after spending five years in England earning her doctorate in chemistry from Oxford University.

In a Heathrow Airport duty-free shop, she literally stumbles upon American Damian Collins. She is attracted to the handsome man, but does not act upon it.

"She found herself wishing he not introduce himself. She didn't want to know anything at all about him...no-name strangers were much easier to forget than people you knew something, anything, about."

But Alana's not going to get off that easily. Aboard the plane, they're seat mates and pass the time making idle conversation without revealing much about themselves.

Mechanical problems with the aircraft force an unscheduled layover in Trinidad. There is, of course, a shortage of hotel rooms. Damian has a suite and offers to share his space with Alana. He seems to have his own definition of the term, "layover."

But Alana has a Ph.D in chemistry, and she's a bit uncomfortable about the chemical reaction Damian is causing within her. She tells him that she is married, hoping that will hold him at bay. (The big lie!) He gallantly allows her to sleep in the suite, while he bunks on a couch in the hotel manager's office. The next day, they spend a fun-filled afternoon taking in the sights of Port-Of-Spain. Alana and Damian enjoy each other's company, say their goodbyes and she flies off to Guyana.

Back home, Alana can't stop thinking about Damian. He seems to be having the same problem. When he shows up in Guyana, at a New Year's Eve reception at the President's house, Alana is surprised to see him. For his part, Damian assumes that her ever-present brother, Harry, is her husband. For Damian and the overprotective Harry, it's hate-at-first-sight.

Giving into her attraction, Alana agrees to spend time with Damian, all the while perpetuating "the big lie." Despite her role in a politically prominent family that requires her to be escorted by a bodyguard, no one seems to know (or care) how she spends her free time. Her schedule is drawn up for state affairs and she always seems to fit Damian in for what becomes a nonsexual relationship. It is inconceivable that a stranger could spend so much time with her, without raising suspicion.

Damian remains an enigma throughout the novel. We know nothing about him, but sense instinctively that he poses no physical threat to Alana. He is in Guyana for several months on unspecified business. A lot of what the reader learns about the characters is by assumption or assertion. The author never tells us. The secondary characters offer no insight into who these people are, or into what motivates them. It is inconceivable that Alana's suspicious brother Harry would not have had Damian investigated during the course of their relationship. By the time the big lie is revealed and the characters' personal crisis is resolved, the reader no longer cares.

But the novel's major weakness is that it can't decide whether it wants to be a travelogue or romance novel. Stanhope's attention to detail gives us wonderful insight into West Indian culture, folklore and traditions. In strong descriptive paragraphs, one can see the parades, smell the food and hear the steel drums.

Night to Remember is an interesting start for Stanhope. All the elements are there. With a little more seasoning, all the ingredients may come together.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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