Edge of Light
If you like your romantic suspense dark and gritty, Edge of Light is worth checking out. When I’m thinking of romantic getaways, a dungeon in Cambodia doesn’t exactly top my list, so the setting of this book should be the reader’s first clue that we’re not getting a warm, cozy romp. However, the author manages to keep readers on the edge of their seats with this thriller and, even though the romance is understandably a bit more muted, it still worked and made for an enjoyable read.
As a child, Jocelyn Hewitt lost her father when his plane went down over Cambodia. She presumed him dead, but the lack of closure from not knowing exactly what happened to him still haunts her. As an adult, this helped drive her to study anthropology, using her skills to help bring the long-lost remains of the missing back to their loved ones at home. When she learns of the possible discovery of her own father’s remains, she pulls every string she can to sneak onto the team sent for the recovery.
Hope for closure turns to horror as Jocelyn’s friends and teammates lose their lives and mercenaries take Jocelyn prisoner. Thrown into a dungeon in the jungle, Jocelyn finds herself in a compound run by a shadowy group called the Trinity. It becomes obvious early on that their leader wants something from her and that he believes her to be the key to decoding documents of her father’s, but Jocelyn cannot help him and fears that she will never get out of the prison alive. Her one source of hope comes from conversations with the mysterious man in the cell next door to her – a man she knows as Oliver who has been held in the prison for years.
Unknown to Jocelyn, Oliver is a CIA agent who was captured in an operation gone bad. Years of imprisonment, psychological torment, and seeing his friends and teammates killed have taken a toll on him. Oliver is beaten down in some ways and deeply cynical. Hearing Jocelyn speak of life and escape makes him scoff at first, but her hope of someday leaving the prison begins to awaken a bit of that same quality in him as well. As Jocelyn and Oliver start to build each other up in their conversations, they start to build a believable bond and it’s very easy to believe in a friendship between them running deep.
Much of the story focuses on the prison and the intrigues of the Trinity, so the romance is a bit of a harder sell. After all, Jocelyn and Oliver have both been through extreme emotional trauma and they are also separated by a cell wall for much of the book. Wisely, the author develops the romance much more slowly than the suspense plot. I could believe in the pacing of the relationship’s development, but the scenes showing the development of the emotional bond between Jocelyn and Oliver while they were in prison could have used a little more emotional punch. What’s there isn’t bad, but I could have used a little more.
On the more positive side, Jocelyn and Oliver each have major points of vulnerability. Jocelyn is a scientist, not a warrior or spy. She has a believable lack of survival training and while strong, she’s no larger-than-life superhero. For Oliver’s part, he does have that CIA background. However, he’s also been sitting forgotten in a jungle prison for years. In addition to the emotional trauma that goes with that, he’s also borne the physical rigors of imprisonment. Most of the grittier romantic suspense novels I’ve read have centered on teams of military characters or highly trained private operatives, most of whom are in top physical condition and almost inhuman in their level of skill and accomplishment. I found it refreshing to find more real, vulnerable characters in a setting such as this one.
My only other real quibble with this book came from the villains. With regard to the Trinity, I could certainly buy that the leader was deeply disturbed and on a certain level, the idea that a shadowy group led by a charismatic and disturbed person could engage in all kinds of creeptastic goings-on in the remote Cambodian jungle has some credibility to it. However, this group seemed to have been at work for a rather long time, on a somewhat large scale and also appeared to be quite organized. In short, these guys had their fingers in so many pies and somehow managed to both stay below the radar and also remain perfectly organized that they started to go from being evil to seeming just a little too eeeevilll. Just as too-perfect heroes and heroines draw eyerolls, so too do too-perfect supervillains.
Even so, I enjoyed this book far more often than I found myself wanting to take issue with it. Given the nature of the story and the allusions to violence and torture, this is not a book for the faint of heart. However, if you enjoy the grittier side of romantic suspense, Edge of Light is an entertaining read.