I read Diamond Bay in print years ago in the midst of a Linda Howard glom. When it became available for audio review, I remembered liking the book and thought it would be fun to revisit. Big mistake; this was a painful experience. I disliked the narration and the audio experience pointed out flaws in the story that I either forgot or had ignored in an early “I love Linda Howard” haze.
Originally published in 1987, Diamond Bay received a B+ from Ellen here at AAR. She summarized the plot as “a secret agent in deep cover and in deep trouble and the brave and resourceful woman who saves his life and falls in love with him.” The plot description is apt, but I differ with the grade assigned.
Kell Sabin, a secret agent, is on a boat off Florida on vacation. His peaceful vacation is disrupted a few pages into the book when his enemies locate him and begin to attack. Kell’s shot, his boat is blown up, and with multiple gunshot wounds (and of course naked, because Kell likes being naked) he’s forced to swim to shore to escape. Before his enemies can locate him, he’s spotted by Rachel Jones. Rachel, an investigative reporter, lives in an isolated home in Diamond Bay. Her husband was killed in a car bomb meant for her. Thanks to her investigative reporting, Rachel knows that there are a lot of bad law enforcement personnel around, and that this injured, unconscious man needs to be hidden. With the help of her dog Joe (my favorite character in the book) Rachel drags Kell back to her home and convinces a veterinarian friend to remove the bullet and tend to Kell’s injuries.
While not that long, these opening sequences seem endless thanks to the narration. There’s not a lot of dialog in this section; much of the text is either descriptive or occurs in Rachel or Kell’s heads. Ms. Sweeney, the narrator, over-dramatizes things that should be read simply and without emphasis, like descriptions. It almost sounds as if Ms. Sweeney is lecturing to a group of non-readers, trying to speak slowly and using unusual emphasis to lure us into the story. It didn’t work. At times, Ms. Sweeney lapses into an odd monotone, with everything – whether describing someone as “wonderful” or describing the death of a loved one – rendered in the same tone.
On reread, I also have major issues with Rachel’s intuition. We’re told repeatedly that as a seasoned, investigative reporter she’s developed the instincts to know that even on first meeting the unconscious Kell that he needs to be protected. Yes, Rachel’s well-educated, she’s well-traveled, she has multiple professions. But seriously, if you found a naked man with gunshot wounds on a beach, would you as a smart woman drag him to your isolated home and care for him for days? No matter how hot said man is? Truthfully, though we’re told Rachel is smart, I’m not convinced of her intelligence. It doesn’t help that Ms. Sweeney gives Rachel a voice that often sounds overly breathy and, to be kind, less than intelligent.
I also have problems with her portrayal of many of the secondary characters. Grant and Jane from the author’s related work Midnight Rainbow make an appearance late in the book. Ms. Sweeney makes Jane sound rather idiotic. And she makes Honey, the veterinarian, sound just horrendous and completely over-the-top. Ms. Sweeney performs each distinctly, but they’re annoying and hard to take seriously.
We often ask if older romances “stand the test of time.” On reread, Diamond Bay did not for me. Parts of the story captured my interest, but there just weren’t enough for me to recommend the story. If you’re thinking of reading Diamond Bay, either for the first time or as a reread, please turn to the print version. The narration was such a bad experience for me that instead of being swept along by the story I focused on flaws that originally didn’t stand out. Perhaps I would have had a different experience if rereading in print, but I absolutely cannot recommend this in audio.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: D- and Book Content: C-
Unabridged. Length – 9 hours 2 minutes