Oscar nominated actress Meg Tilly is no stranger when it comes to the literary arts – Cliff’s Edge is her eighth book, and the second in her Pacific Northwest-set Solace Island series. So far she’s made a good home for herself in the romantic suspense genre, writing tense thrillers with a solid human core and a good small-town feel to them. Cliff’s Edge is no exception to that rule – it follows Eve, sister of the heroine of Solace Island, as she finds true love and tries to survive a stalker.
Artist Eve Harris thinks that she’s going to have a fairly easy time house-sitting for her sister while Maggie goes on her honeymoon with Luke. After all, anything’s got to be simpler than dealing with the broken heart she’s been nursing for months and the fact that her art was rejected for an important gallery showing. Unfortunately Eve has a worse problem than trying to serve up coffee and tarts solo at the Intrepid Café; she’s attracted the attention of an obsessive stalker who saw her leaving Maggie’s wedding and promptly decides Eve must be his.
Actor Rhys Thomas is an old friend of Luke’s, and he’s looking for somewhere quiet and remote to hang out after finishing his latest movie. When the address of his vacation home leaks to the press and makes resting up in his usual haunts impossible, Luke offers Rhys space at the family home. He has an ulterior motive – he hopes to set up Rhys with Eve. In spite of what amounts to an unpleasant shock for them both, Eve and Rhys end up spending time together working at the Café and taking care of Maggie and Luke’s Irish wolfhound Samson. Combustible sexual chemistry means that their awkward beginnings are soon forgotten.
Unfortunately, Eve’s stalker is watching. Caught up in a creepy whirl of obsessive fantasies about her, he’s enraged by seeing her with Rhys. Soon Eve realizes she’s not exactly alone with Rhys anymore – and the new couple must battle their way toward safety and freedom. Will Rhys’ need to return to Los Angeles separate them – or will the man tailing her get to her first?
Cliff’s Edge is a fun, fast-moving read, and although I had a couple of problems with its plot that keep it below DIK level, there are enough positives to make it worthwhile.
Tilly truly knows romantic suspense. The book is dedicated to Jayne Ann Krentz and lives up to that lofty billing in a lot of ways; reading Cliff’s Edge is like reading the notebook of a fellow romance fan. Tilly knows her tropes and how to deliver them efficiently, with punchy speed, sprinkling in moments of humor and nerve-wracking tension as she goes. The way the mystery unspools is pretty clever, and I liked Eve’s toughness and Rhys’ cleverness in saving each other, themselves, and puzzling out the true murderer.
I loved Rhys’ self-deprecating snark, delivered with truly hilarious internal monologues, and Eve’s steel spine. Their pairing does carry a lot of heat, even if that heat is dished out too quickly to be credible, and Tilly’s stalker character is a legitimately creepy, rageful sex pervert who feels suitably oily and gross. I liked the glimpses of life in Solace Island that we’re given – characters like peppy, giggle-worthy sexagenarian Dorothy Whidbee, sweet Big Hank, or the indecisive Ethelwyn all add to the story and paint a successful picture of a slightly quirky small town. Best of all is Eve’s ex, Levi – the perfectly deluded author of ukulele-strumming ‘hit’ songs like “Candy Flippin’”.
Family problems take up some subplot space; Rhys’ mom has Alzheimers, and he struggles with the slow loss of her – this is handled particularly well. The Harris’ fractured family was well-chronicled in Solace Island, and that continues here, as Maggie tries to figure out a way to explain her origins to Eve.
Unfortunately the plot held a few twists that caused me to knock the grade down a peg or two. I found it a little nonsensical, for instance, that Luke thought it was a good idea to hook up Eve and Rhys by telling both of them that the house would be unoccupied and letting them be surprised by the sudden presence of a hot new stranger. I know he intended for them to find one another and embark on a relationship – and at least Eve reacts realistically to the surprise – but Luke is very lucky that Eve didn’t succeed in taking a cast iron pan to Rhys’ head when she assumed he was an intruder.
Another problem – Rhys and Eve fall into insta-lust with one another and it’s so quick and the heat so intense between them that it felt a little cartoonish. I believed in their conflicts; that Eve would have trust issues at first because Rhys is so handsome and he’s a big star, that Rhys wouldn’t tell Eve about his mom, and would worry about sharing that part of himself with her – but I think they should’ve taken a little more time together to talk out their feelings. Which is ironic, because the last fifty or so pages could’ve been trimmed from the back end of the novel, since they’re mainly plotless bits of fluff – well earned by the characters but still a bit light on substance.
But Cliff’s Edge is a fascinating reading experience, as it wends its way between contemporary romance tropes, cozy mystery plot points, and gives us a villain who’s 100 percent nasty thriller material. It earns its recommendation for keeping all of those balls in the air without dropping a single one.