Beneath the Texas Moon
Harlequin Intrigue’s Eclipse line of gothic romances must not be selling well, since the publisher makes every attempt to hide the fact that the latest entry is part of it. The word Eclipse doesn’t appear anywhere on the cover or inside text of Elle James’s Beneath the Texas Moon, and only the tiny Eclipse moon symbol on the binding gives any indication it is part of the promotion. While they may not want to publicize it too much, this is still a gothic romance, with a heroine who moves into an old house in a small town, a (somewhat) brooding hero, and some mysterious, likely supernatural, doings at hand. Like most of the Eclipse books published so far, it’s merely an acceptable read.
Eve Baxter moved to Spirit Canyon, Texas, with her four-year-old son Joey looking for a fresh start. Several months earlier, her ex-husband was mauled to death by a dog. Joey witnessed the attack and has a scar on his face from his own injuries. He hasn’t spoken since the incident occurred. Eve bought a house she hopes to turn into a bed-and-breakfast and prays the change of scenery will help her son heal.
Eve actually dreamed of the attack before it happened, and now in Spirit Canyon she begins to have new dreams of danger to herself and her son. An unknown creature seems to be attacking local livestock, something Eve experiences up close when she discovers the body of a dead lamb drained of its blood on her back steps. Rancher Mac McGuire has his own history with Spirit Canyon’s mysterious monsters. Thirty years ago, his mother was attacked by a similar creature and later abandoned him and his father because of it. He and Eve become close when Joey begins to respond to Mac in a way he hasn’t to anyone else since his father’s attack. As the town gathers forces to stop the creature, Mac and Eve work to uncover the truth about what’s really happening.
Maybe the publisher removed the Eclipse references to lower expectations, because in spite of a promising premise, the story is never as dark or suspenseful as it could be. With the mysterious creature and rumors of an evil cult operating in the area, it has the right ingredients for a spine-tingling read. Instead, the story never shakes off that all-too-common sense of series romance blandness. There are some creepy scenes that offer glimpses of a darker, scarier story lurking beneath the surface, but in spite of those effective moments, the story is rather ordinary and nondescript. Spirit Canyon seems like a generic Western setting full of the usual small-town types. The author’s prose is reasonably smooth, but sort of flavorless. She never really generates the sense of atmosphere this kind of story needs.
The characters are two-dimensional. Mac is a former Army soldier who fought in Iraq until an injury forced him to resign his commission. His memories of war provide the book with some of its most effective moments, but ultimately his experiences aren’t explored with enough depth to amount to much. Meanwhile, Eve is terribly bland and her emotional conflict is lame. She doesn’t want to get involved with Mac because she had a stepfather who didn’t love her, so she decides not to get involved with a man to avoid giving Joey a stepfather who doesn’t love him. Had Eve’s issues been developed with any real substance, this might have been a meaty conflict, but they aren’t, so all we’re left with is the inevitable waiting game to see how long it takes Eve to figure out Mac is not her stepfather and does love Joey. Mac’s kindness to Joey from the very beginning should give her an indication he wouldn’t treat the boy as badly as her stepfather treated her, rendering the conflict even more hollow. It’s not a good sign when the interactions between the hero and the heroine’s son are more effective than those between the main couple, or when the most touching part of the plot belongs to a four-year-old. Joey’s not developed much beyond the scared-little-kid type, but his fear of dogs (including Mac’s Australian shepherd Molly) is moving and the way he gradually comes out of his shell leads to some nice moments.
The plot is mostly predictable, with an obvious villain and too many one-dimensional small town folk running around being annoying. There are some good revelations at the end though, and the climax works well, even if it does give in to one painful cliche about the role of children in romantic suspense novels. The author gets credit for ending the book on a nicely ambiguous and creepy final note.
Beneath the Texas Moon is an average gothic romance, neither great nor terrible, but nothing special. It will likely work better for readers who like stories about tortured heroes and sad children who bond (with the help of a sweet dog). Those looking for a spooky romantic suspense may be less impressed.