Break the Night
Back when I was in high school and college, I loved Silhouette’s Shadows line and Break the Night by Anne Stuart was a particular favorite of mine. I recently reread the book to see how it holds up. The suspense is still compelling and I still enjoyed the story, though there were some issues with the romance that had slipped right by me as a teen that, when read with a bit more maturity, take away from my enjoyment somewhat.
Break the Night is a serial killer thriller from back in the days before these were trendy and got to be a tad overdone. Since it’s the Shadows line, the book has a paranormal twist to it, and it’s one that really works rather than feeling overdone. The basic premise is this: What if Jack the Ripper never died? Reporter J. R. Damien believes the Ripper is back to his gruesome old tricks – this time on the streets of Venice, California.
A serial killer is terrorizing Venice. At the scene of each murder, police have found one of the carnival masks made by local artist Lizzie Stride. As readers, we are dropped into a book that features characters very much on edge. The city nervously awaits the apprehension of a vicious killer, Lizzie’s nerves are shot from interview after interview with the authorities as well as the knowledge that her creations are a killer’s fixation. And then Damien steps into her life, obviously haunted by the crimes and convinced that Lizzie is in danger.
Upon rereading, I can see that this book lacks the polish of some of Stuart’s better known works, but her ability to play with dark and menacing moods in a story is very much apparent here. The dialogue has more than a touch of melodrama to it, and Damien makes a fantastic edgy hero. As a somewhat washed-up reporter haunted by a crime that he knows harks back to the terror-filled killing spree of Jack the Ripper, Damien feels like a character from film noir at times. He’s smart, determined and so close to the darkness that at times he feels like an anti-hero. Some heroes of this type are actually teddy bears underneath all that angst but in true Anne Stuart fashion, this one sometimes does feel downright dangerous.
The suspense plot still works for me and the dark moodiness of the book is rather effective. Watching Lizzie and Damien try to find a killer even as they know they’re in his crosshairs feels as inevitable as watching their attraction flare to life. There are some plot holes you could drive a truck through (the police don’t even halfway bother trying to protect a star witness and known target? Seriously, people??) but the author holds the mood well enough that one keeps right on reading anyway.
The one big weakness of the love story is one I’ve seen in more than a few darker romances. The author excels at creating a believably dangerous outsider for a hero, but there is a fine line between a deliciously edgy, passionate bad boy hero and, well, consent issues. Without getting too spoilery, I’ll just say that this book falls very uncomfortably into that trap.
Even with its flaws, I still enjoyed Break the Night as a piece of fiction. However, some elements of the romance caused me problems as I read this time, so while I’ll still keep this book around, it’s not quite the big category romance favorite it used to be.