Bump in the Night

J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Ruth Langan and Mary Kay McComas
April 2006, Paranormal Romance
Jove, $7.99, 393 pages, Amazon ASIN 0515141178

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Varies

Bump in the Night features four short stories - one historical, two contemporary, and one futuristic, all of which feature some sort of paranormal element. I was drawn in by the J.D. Robb story, but that actually wasn't my favorite of the bunch; I liked the historical. The other two were bad to middling.

Futuristic Romantic Suspense
Sensuality: Subtle

In Haunted in Death, Eve Dallas is called to a crime scene at an old and legendary building where a young music star, Bobbie Bray, disappeared in the 1960s. This time there's a murder there - a man shot several times. It seems obvious that the crime is somehow connected to Bobbie Bray's life, or death.

The trail of evidence leads Eve to an antique shop that specializes in Bobbie Bray memorabilia. But it also takes her back to the crime scene, where she hears and sees things that aren't quite of this world. She swears there must be a logical explanation for the strange music and sudden cold breezes, but Roarke, with his fanciful Irish sensibility, is wont to take the paranormal happenings at face value. It's shades of Scully and Mulder; and don't forget that Mulder was almost always right.

This played out about like I expected it would, and I couldn't help being a little disppointed. As a story, it's not that bad, but as an In Death story, it could really have been much better. There was too much Bobbie Bray and not enough Roarke. And I have to confess that I am more of an Eve/Scully than a true believer. While I enjoyed it to some extent, I mostly just wished I could read a full-length Robb book instead.

Grade: B-

Paranormal Historical (Regency England)
Sensuality: Subtle

Poppy's Coin begins in a modern museum, and is essentially a story told by the curator about an officer who returns home after Waterloo. Major David Lindsay is responsible for two young children, and must find the means to support his family. He'd like to sell his commission, but no one seems interested in buying it. When his adopted daughter gives him a magic coin and tells him to make a wish, he does it to humor her; he doesn't believe that the coin can really have any magic powers. But when he wishes for a job that will support his family, the coin grows warm in his hand. Later that day, he finds employment as a lady's escort for the season.

Lindsay is humiliated at the idea of taking the position in the first place. Thoguh he enjoys Lady Grace Anderson's company, the position itself seems dishonorable. Matters only grow worse as the season wears on. Lindsay feels himself falling for Grace, but doesn't see how an relationship could ever work when they are not on an equal financial footing. Meanwhile, Grace is skittish about relationships in general because she had a difficult first marriage. It doesn't seem as if their problems can be resolved, but then, they do have that magic coin.

I liked this story much more than I expected to. The characters are surprisingly well-developed, given the short page count allotted to them. I particularly liked Lindsay, and sympathized with his difficult situation. The resolution at the end was sweet and satisfying, and the story was easily the best of the book.

Grade: B

Ghost Romance
Sensuality: Subtle

The Passenger was pleasant, but not terribly memorable. Josh Cramer is a daredevil famous for extreme sport stunts - helo-skiing, long distance hot-air ballooning, and the like. After he finishes a particularly dificult stunt, he longs for a little time off, but his agent rushes him into his latest scheme: a solo expedition to a famous, remote, haunted lake. Josh will take his camera and film his adventure, which the agent hopes will turn into a reality TV series.

On the way to the lake, things suddenly go very wrong. A passenger appears out of nowhere in Josh's plane, which then crashes and explodes. Amazingly, Josh is thrown free and scarcely harmed. Equally amazingly, he is rescued by Grace Martin, a photographer who is staying in a lakeside cabin while trying to capture the lake's famous ghost lights on film. While Josh and Grace wait for Josh's oddly-late supply place to show up, they bond, and their attraction grows. Meanwhile, an old Indian man comes by and tells them the story of the woman of the lake, who was married to a chief but in love with a warrior. Oddly, the story seems to parallel the life of Grace's mother. When the man leaves a packet of letters behind with them, he realizes that nothing about the scenario is coincidental.

This story has a spine-tingling element that's kind of fun, but it's more about the past than it is about the present. I liked Josh and Grace, but couldn't quite drum up much enthusiasm for Grace's mom or the ghost woman, who were, at the end of the day, both adulterers. While that isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me, I wasn't that fond of how it was handled here.

Grade: C+

Paranormal Romance
Sensuality: N/A

In this case, the worst is saved for last. Mello Lemon Yellow is daring, but was both confusing and a little, well, icky. Charlotte finds herself alone after her dad's death. An only child, Charlotte was her father's partner in his book-keeping business. When he dies, she realizes that she has been living out her parents' dreams while paying little attention to her own wishes and desires. She knows she needs to make some changes, but is unsure how to go about it. Then she sees an oddly dressed man at her father's funeral, wearing tight football player pants, a suit jacket, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, and Dorothy's ruby slippers. He soon starts popping up other places, and she's afraid he is stalking her - only no one else can see him. Finally she corners him and she find out that he is the imaginary friend from her childhood. He calls himself Mel.

Charlotte and Mel begin interacting on a regular basis, and soon he is her best friend. She gets him some decent clothes (by looking through GQ and imagining what she likes best), and they embark on home and personal improvement projects. As the story progresses, they have more and more fun together. Meanwhile, I became more and more nervous. There was no hero in sight. Was Mel the hero? Was the heroine about to get it on with her imaginary friend? It sure looked like it, and to me this seemed beyond icky. A childish word, I know, but in this case, it really fit.

As it happens, Charlotte does not end up with her childhood imaginary companion. But it's only at the bitter end that anyone else showed up, and that was far too late for any character development. While there are some humorous moments (I liked when Mel turned into Colin Firth and told Charlotte she was "the handsomest woman of his acquaintance"), on the whole this story is an imaginative tale run too wild.

Grade: D+

On the whole, the book's not bad. If you're a Robb fan, you may not be able to resist the pull of Eve and Roarke, even though it doesn't add a great deal to that particular series. If so, stick around for the enjoyable Blayney story. The others you can probably take or leave.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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