The phrase that best describes this reissue of Andersen’s debut novel is “been there, done that.” When Shadow Dance was initially released in 1989 it had the slight advantage of coming out when this type of romantic suspense novel/mystery was still something fresh. In the years since then, serial killers targeting the heroine who is then assisted and protected by the hero cop have become pretty cliché.
Amanda Marshall makes her living as a professional showgirl in a Reno casino and deals with the problems that can engender everyday. Those problems increase when her tenant, a fellow dancer, disappears. Amanda is trying to convince herself that Maryanne has once again taken off with the man du jour for a few days, but knows that she’s probably fooling herself. Her concerns are unfortunately justified. Maryanne is the latest victim of the serial killer dubbed by the press as the Show Girl Slayer.
Detective Tristan MacLaughlin is a Lieutenant from the Seattle Police Dept. brought in to consult on the serial killer case in Reno. He and Amanda irritate each other immediately (and pretty unnecessarily too). He thinks she’s snooty and is the kind of woman who’s always made him feel like the awkward, oversized Glasgow street kid he used to be. She decides he’s a big bully and is determined to give him the cold shoulder. Sound at all familiar? Now as we all know, hating each other is no barrier to romance. Tristan makes matters easier by becoming Amanda’s new tenant. They’re now able to hate each other – and of course, fall in love at the same time – at close quarters.
Amanda gives new meaning to the phrase “running hot and cold” and is almost always shocked at the sight of his gun. Perhaps the author was going for something deeper and Freudian here. Amanda is afraid of strong emotional attachment and this manifests itself in her revulsion to the strong emotions of violence and masculinity represented by his gun – nah, not in this book.
And I’m almost positive there was supposed to be some chemistry between the protagonists, this being a romance and all. There isn’t. Tristan is generally a more sympathetic character, partly because it’s his job to be a bit pushy and aggressive. He does his share of jumping to conclusions about Amanda though and the two spend about two-thirds of the book acting out like two year olds. I almost expected them to break out in “You’re a big bully and a doo doo head” and “Well you’re a spoiled, snooty baby.”
There is a brief span of time in which Amanda and Tristan begin to act like two adults who care about each other and I finally began to believe in them as a couple. But it was too little, too late. The killer is who you’d suppose he’d be. Amanda has a friend who is a little wilder then she is but of course has a heart of gold. Tristan is partnered by a Reno cop who instantly, and very unbelievably, agrees to let Tristan run the case and follows his lead without question. These are stock characters, and the plot is straight out of Serial Killer Plotting 101.
I’m sure the decision to reissue this debut was motivated by the author’s current popularity and thus there are guaranteed readers. Readers are split on whether Susan Andersen’s early romantic suspense novels, written for Zebra, are better than her more recent romantic comedies, written for Avon. That’s a judgment call I can’t make, although all her grades previous to this one have been good. My suggestion? If Andersen is a “gotta have” author, buy the book…but don’t expect much. This one’s strictly formula, and not good formula at that.