Imagine, if you will, Cameron Diaz starring in The Blair Witch Project or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and you’ll begin to understand some of the difficulties I had in reading Jude Deveraux’s latest release. I was never sure what I was reading: is the book a paranormal (there are witches and telepathy), or is it a cute little romance (complete with annoyingly spunky heroine and clueless hero), or is it some sort of macabre horror story (and there are elements straight out of that genre)? The tone is uneven, the writing uninspired, and the characters inconsistent. I just kept repeating to myself over and over, “This is not the Jude Deveraux who wrote Sweet Liar!” Hell, it’s not even the one who wrote Remembrance.
Things start off pretty weirdly, with a creepy prologue about an evil woman bent on attaining wealth, power, and immortality. The prologue ends with her decision that, since she has six of the nine items required for immortal life, she’ll use the power of a magic mirror (that only a virgin can see into) to get the other three – and that’s the last time you hear any mention of her evil quest in the whole book! Then the story shifts to its main focus, and we meet the protagonists.
Young, spunky – and at times TSTL – Darci Monroe of Putnam, Kentucky moves to New York City and lands a job as personal assistant to brooding, enigmatic, wealthy-as-Croesus – and terminally boring – Adam Montgomery. It seems Adam has hired her on the advice of a psychic, who’s told him that Darci is the only woman who can help him solve the mysterious deaths of his parents years ago. Adam and Darci head up to Camwell, Connecticut, where there’s rumored to be a witches’ coven.
Now you’d think Darci and Adam might want to lie low for a while and get a feel for the place before they let anyone know what they’re up to. But as soon as they pull in to town, Darci’s blabbing to anyone and everyone about what they’ve come for. Sure enough, complications ensue: they almost get caught in a secret passageway, a man comes close to shooting them in the middle of the night, they untangle the mystery of Darci’s past, and Adam’s family history catches up with them. Along the way, they discover that Darci has some amazing mental powers, including the ability to read Adam’s mind. And oh, yeah, somewhere in there they decide they’re in love, but they can’t do anything about it because Darci has to retain her virginity – at least until the riddle of Adam’s parents’ death is solved.
Others may find some of the facets of Darci’s personality “quirky,” or “charming,” or even “endearing.” I merely found them annoying as all get-out. Here’s a woman who’s manipulative (oh, but isn’t it cute when a woman stops dead in her tracks, crosses her arms, and refuses to move until she gets her way?), and pedantic (oh, but she’s just got one of those trivia-holding minds, you see), and cheap (oh, but she was raised in poverty, so it’s perfectly natural that she refuses to pay for anything, even the clothes on her back, out of her own salary, and makes her boss foot the bill for everything – then pockets the change). The fact that she couldn’t keep her mouth shut did nothing to add to her appeal. All her life, Darci’s been using what she refers to as her Power of True Persuasion to get the citizens of Putnam to do what she thinks is best for them, and when Adam realizes she’s using it on him, he orders her to stop. You tell me if you think she does (Hint: the answer is No).
At least Darci’s behavior is consistent. I can’t say the same for Adam’s. One minute he’s ready to pack Darci on a plane to safety, the next he realizes he needs her to help him, the next he wants her to leave, the next he . . . you get the picture. This guy has studied the witches’ coven for quite some time and knows how powerful it’s supposed to be, but he thinks he can just waltz in there with one assistant and take them all down? Let’s just say that if they gave a Nobel Prize in Intelligence, Adam wouldn’t be in the running for it.
Darci has to use all her aforementioned “winning” qualities to pry the truth out of Adam about what exactly he’s up to, and why, and how she fits into the picture, which only added to my irritation. If he wanted her to do something, he could have tried to be at least a little bit upfront with her, instead of clamming up and acting like a petulant schoolboy. And when he describes himself as “boring,” take my word for it, he’s not lying. It would be more logical to fall in love with his Irish setter than with him, and (Montgomery millions aside) probably more rewarding.
There are two other main characters, and here’s where we get into Slight Spoiler Territory. One of them is a mystery man from Darci’s past. Even in the context of this novel, the bond they form happens far too quickly and unconvincingly. The other character is someone very close to Adam, and again all parties concerned adjust to their new situation way, way too easily and too quickly. It rang false, and the characters didn’t act in character; rather, they did what they did For The Sake Of The Plot. As Martha says, this is not A Good Thing.
This next bit is Major Spoiler Territory, and I’m including it in much the same vein as a consumers’ magazine would contain warnings about products that violate the consumer’s trust in a known brand name. It’s also one of the main reasons for my dislike of this book. I do not read a book marketed to the romance-reading public, written by a major romance-fiction author, expecting mutilation, dismemberment, and death – let alone mutilation, dismemberment, and murder of children. Although Deveraux is careful never to show violence “on the screen,” she certainly does imply it, and this is what pushed the book into F territory for me. If I want to read about the awful things grownups can do to children, I’ll read Andrew Vachss, thank you – and I’ll know what I’m getting into before I start.
The thing that kept bugging me as I read this book – aside from the constant, inconsistent head-hopping – was that Deveraux kept switching gears mid-chapter, mid-page, mid-paragraph. First there’d be a little Carole Lombard kind of wacky screwball comedy thing going on, and the next thing I knew, I was in Alfred Hitchcock-land, with a touch of John Carpenter thrown in, and some Sixth Sense on the side. It’s as if Deveraux couldn’t decide which kind of book she wanted to write and ended up writing a little of everything, all of which added up to a big nothing.
There are two epilogues, even though only one of them is labeled as such; but when I see that the next-to-last chapter’s heading is One Year Later, and the last one’s is Epilogue: Three Years Later, hey, let’s not split hairs here, okay? Those are two epilogues, and neither of them adds anything to the story. The only reason the book’s grade isn’t a solid F is because the pace picks up toward the end and I did read that section nonstop, even though I was rolling my eyes the whole time. I think I need to go re-read Sweet Liar to get the bad taste of this story out of my mind. If you’re looking to Forever . . . to give you your Montgomery/Taggert fix, forget it – pick up one of Deveraux’s older titles. At least you won’t be creeped out by it.