Anne Stuart can always be counted on for an edgy, dark read. She has published more than 60 novels over the course of her distinctive career. Her work will never win first prize in the "Love and Laughter" category, but it's usually rewarding as long as you know what you're getting yourself into. Shadows at Sunset is vintage Stuart, with a wonderfully gothic setting and a family that could have defined the term "dysfunctional."
Jilly Meyer admits that she's a co-dependent caretaker to her wayward siblings. First, there's Rachel-Anne, who is currently sober after years of using sex, drugs and alcohol to numb her inner pain. Then there's Dean, a weak-willed computer genius, who's still trying in vain to gain his heartless father's approval. Dean doesn't dare challenge the ruthless Jackson Meyer when he is pushed aside at work to make room for Jackson's new protege, Zach Coltrane, so he sends Jilly to intervene.
Jilly can tell that there's more to Coltrane than meets the eye, but she doesn't know the half of it. Coltrane has wormed his way into Jackson's company on a mission of revenge, and he doesn't care how many of the Meyer offspring are taken down along with their father. He makes no bones about warning Jilly away, even as he is wondering what it would be like to sleep with her. And Jilly, always the sensible one, suddenly starts thinking that it's time to throw caution to the wind and become involved with a man she
knows will break her heart.
All of this drama is played out in a crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard, home of the three Meyer siblings. Only Jilly cares anything about the beautiful but decaying house, the site of an infamous 1950's murder/suicide of a starlet and her married lover. Brenda and Ted, the ghosts of the dead couple, still haunt the house, looking out for "their girls."
Shadows at Sunset draws the reader into Stuart's dark, slightly eerie story. The pairing of Jilly and Coltrane is similar to most other Stuart couples. He's a charming rat who tells the heroine he's no-good even as he seduces her; she is smart enough to know he's bad news, but not smart enough to keep from falling in love. Of course, the hero finds redemption in the end, and the two drive off into the sunset, lighting sparks all along the way. Don't look for a hero and heroine who fit the emotionally healthy
definition of love - shared values, shared goals, etc. Instead, expect two wounded characters who snipe at each other, fall into bed after a lot of effective heavy breathing, and then finally decide they're in love.
The novel has some weaknesses. Jilly and Coltrane's strange affair is almost overshadowed by Rachel-Anne, who makes a surprising recovery with the help of a mysterious but kind stranger. This secondary romance is less predictable and more heartfelt than the primary one. And I never was sure why the ghosts of Ted and Brenda were in the book. They contributed little to the plot and were awkward comic relief. I
would have been just as happy without them. The house itself provided an effective atmospheric backdrop to the story; the ghosts were superfluous.
If you like taking a walk on the wild side, Anne Stuart's latest contemporary will be right up your alley. As a former loner, I always appreciate Stuart's misfit yet strong heroines. It's obvious she knows how it feels to live on the fringes. Even misfits deserve a happy ending. Or maybe misfits need one more than most people.