Shadows at Sunset
This book should come with a warning label: Book is better than it sounds: Shadows at Sunset has cute in-love ghosts, childish adult millionaire’s children and Hollywood. My initial reaction was …not good. Am I the only one surprised to read funny ghosts in an Anne Stuart novel? But in spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Shadows at Sunset, is also suspenseful, sexy and has the kind of sultry charm that the title suggests. Think Chinatown – lite (without the detective) or a TV version of the movie Sunset Boulevard and you’ve got the tone of Shadows at Sunset.
There are two stories in this book. One story surrounds the ghosts of Brenda de Lorillard and Ted Hughes, two lovers who committed an infamous murder suicide in the crumbling Hollywood mansion where both stories takes place. These ghosts watch the main characters in the story and occasionally refer to their own tragic end. Though ghosts generally leave me cold, Brenda and Ted add a certain creepy but glamorous tone to the book. I actually liked them.
The main story concerns Jilly Meyer, daughter of business tycoon Jackson Meyer. Jilly lives in a crumbing Hollywood mansion on Sunset Boulevard with her two adult siblings, Dean and Rachel-Ann. All three have been victimized by their selfish and powerful father but only Jilly has broken free and become her own person. Strong and smart, Jilly is also the absolute definition of a codependent. She works, pays everybody’s bills and is constantly called upon to solve the many problems that her brother and sister should be solving themselves. Rachel-Ann is a serial recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Dean works for his father in a job that requires no real work on his part and lives on his computer.
As the story opens, Jilly is making a useless trip to see her father to stop him from pushing Dean aside in favor of his favorite corporate smoothie, Coltrane. Jilly’s father ignores her, but Coltrane pursues her and wheedles a ride home with her. Jilly treats Coltrane coldly, but her plans to totally snub him are thwarted by her siblings. A few days later Dean invites Coltrane to live with them after he has been burned out of his apartment. Jilly knows there is something funny about this, but she can’t do much about it. She’s strongly attracted to the gorgeous blond Coltrane but is afraid to even consider a relationship. For one thing it’s obvious that he is after more than sex with her. She’s also worried that he will go after the beautiful, fragile and promiscuous Rachel-Ann or that he will use Dean, who is gay and is clearly attracted to him. Nice group, huh?
Things are about as bad, or even worse, than Jilly suspects. Jackson Meyer has instructed Coltrane to take care of a little problem. He wants to buy his kids out of their home. Meyer is utterly without scruples and suggests that Coltrane sleep with Jilly to get what he wants. What Meyer doesn’t know is that Coltrane is a con man and is not even close to being what he seems. He made himself indispensable to Meyer with the intent of destroying him and will even use Jilly, Dean, and Rachel-Ann if necessary. Think “anti-hero” and you’ve got our man Coltrane.
The creepy tone of this book – people who play head games with each other and know better than to trust – works well. Anne Stuart is a master at creating morally ambiguous characters. A secondary love story with Rachel-Ann and an old flame is also compelling and it makes Rachel-Ann, who initially seems to be nothing but a rich recovering drug addict, into a far more sympathetic character.
Coltrane is a very alpha hero. He would be too unbearable to live in real life because he is so very dominating, but in Shadows at Sunset he was utterly yummy. And though there are very few love scenes, they are effective; one in particular is a scorcher. This is the first time I’ve read about a hero who warns the heroine that he’s not wearing underwear. Our Coltrane is not shy.
Shadows at Sunset takes a while to work as a romance. Much time is spent on the Meyer family problems and the dynamics between the siblings. I would have liked to have seen more romance and less family, and I also would have preferred the lovemaking earlier or perhaps more often. All in all, Jilly and Coltrane made a great couple and I missed not seeing them together more. This is my first Anne Stuart contemporary. I have no idea how it compares to her other contemporaries, but I’m looking forward to reading more of them.