One Dark Night
I rarely ever read the love scenes in romance novels. In fact, I usually skim them and resume reading where the story picks up. Why? I read romance novels for the romance, the events that bring two characters together, the ups and downs of their relationships, and – of course – the HEA. The “money shot,” so to speak, is not the point of a romance novel, and no matter how well they are written, I usually find love scenes unimaginative. And because I skim them, they generally don’t have an effect on how I feel about the book as a whole.
However, One Dark Night is an exception. It isn’t often that I find a
love sex scene icky, uncomfortable, offensive and so distracting that it’s hard for me to get into the story, but that’s how I felt about the scenes in this thriller (which is described on both its front and back covers as romantic suspense, not erotica). It wasn’t how graphic the scenes were (and they were very graphic, possibly the most graphic I’ve ever read), nor was it the rough and foul language the characters use during them. I didn’t have a problem with the kinky nature of the scenes, which dealt with dominant/submissive sex. My problem was that the sex scenes were wholly out of place and inappropriate at the point they took place in the story. And since these scenes were so graphic, so raw and so erotic, it made their flaws even more glaring. Most of all, the author hit upon my biggest pet peeve when it comes to sex scenes. But I’ll get to that.
Dr. Nikki Adenike is a successful, busy surgeon, who like most romance heroines has no time for a love life. Actually she does, but Nikki isn’t looking for an ordinary relationship with an ordinary guy. What she is looking for is a relationship with a certain kind of man. She wants to be involved with a sexually dominant man, one who completely controls her sexually and one to whom she can submit. The story is careful to point out that Nikki doesn’t want to be controlled by a man 24/7; that aspect of the relationship should begin and end at the bedroom door, and she wants love to be part of the relationship. So far Nikki has kept her desires in the form of fantasies or the books she reads.
She doesn’t explore her desires in real life, until one night she stumbles onto a website that caters to dominant men and women who wish to submit to them. Nikki connects with a man named Richard and starts an online relationship with him. She finds Richard fulfills all her desires sexually and emotionally and seems to be too good to be true. What Nikki doesn’t know is that “Richard” is a serial killer who has brutally murdered several women and he uses the Internet to meet these women and draw them into his web. When Nikki makes a date to finally meet her online paramour, it looks like she may be his next victim.
Detective Thomas Cavanah is the investigator on the case. This case is very personal to him for reasons I can’t reveal here and he is nearly obsessed with solving it. When Nikki is attacked and nearly killed by the serial murderer (though she escapes death thanks to some rather implausible plot twists), she and Thomas become part of each other lives. Of course, there is an instantaneous attraction. Nikki begins to wonder if Thomas may be the dominant lover she is looking for. And Thomas, who has read all of Nikki’s correspondence with “Richard” (as part of the investigation or so he claims), finds himself turned on by her desires. This is fairly early in the book, but by this time, I’d had quite a few problems with the novel.
First, I found it extremely hard to believe that there is a notorious serial murderer out there who uses bondage and rough sex as part of his ritual and Nikki knows nothing about him. The author tries to explain that Nikki is too busy to read the papers or watch the news, but I wasn’t convinced. Second, the killer was using the Internet to meet his victims. The police seemed to know that the killer wasn’t using random women as victims, which meant he had carefully planned who he was going to kill. Wouldn’t the police have wanted to figure out how the killer was meeting these women and wouldn’t they have at least considered the Internet as a possibility in this day and age? Third, the killer breaks his murderous MO in the novel for the most flimsy reason. I know why the author did it and I can’t go into details here, but again, I was not buying it. Lastly, while the author provided plenty of red herrings, they were so obvious that the killer was obvious very early on and may as well have walked around with a bloody knife and a leather whip in his hand.
Now about the novel’s biggest problem: Nikki and Thomas’ sexual relationship. I actually liked both characters individually and thought they had chemistry. Many of their early scenes were sexually charged, engaging and snappily written. But my problem was why they wanted to have a dominant/submissive relationship. Nikki’s reasoning, while based on sound psychological underpinnings, still seemed clichéd, and Thomas’ reasons for the relationship weren’t answered to my satisfaction at all. Instead came across as a sexual creep. I had another big problem with the relationship too. When it came to her online lover, Nikki was very careful about taking chances meeting him and wanted to be sure she could trust him before they met. But she hardly knows Thomas when they have sex for the first time, yet she is willing to engage in sex with him, handcuffs and all. Worst of all (and my personal hot button issue), they have unprotected sex, a glaring problem particularly as Nikki is a doctor. And don’t get me started on their thoughts of love after their first bout of hot sex.
I had even more problems with the book. Nikki does some things that veer perilously close to TSTL territory, the worst when she decides to risk being caught by the serial killer rather than tell Thomas how she feels about him. The author loads on the subplots and characters, some very late in the book, which gives them a tacked on feel, and a few of the “surprise” plot twists defied credibility. And something happens at the end that is so stupefying and hard to believe that I tossed the book across the room. Naturally, despite all the murderous mayhem and kinky sex, the hero and heroine still have the conventional, “let’s get married” conclusion which caused me to groan in disbelief.
I’ve decided One Dark Night is a novel version of those cheesy erotic thrillers that air late night on premium cable; the kind that star has been movie stars or TV actors who can’t get a good guest spot anymore. Those movies last two hours, tops. This book took up much, much more of my time, time that I’ll never get back, much to my chagrin.