Tall, Dark, and Deadly
I’ve read several of Heather Graham’s historical romances, but Tall, Dark, and Deadly is the first of her contemporary suspense novels that I’ve tried. I was surprised to find such a different voice and style; if I’d read it blind I never would have guessed it was written by the same author as Surrender or One Wore Blue. Naturally, a suspense novel would be darker than her historicals, although even they are not exactly light-hearted romps. But this was somewhat grittier than I expected. It wasn’t bad – suspense fanatics might really enjoy it. However, the characters seem bland at first, and the ending is somewhat disappointing.
When Marnie Newcastle disappears, few of her acquaintances are concerned. After all, Marnie is a self-centered party girl who lives a very promiscuous lifestyle. But Samantha Miller is Marnie’s neighbor and long-time friend, and she just knows something’s not right. Before Marnie has been gone for a full day, Samantha is already asking questions. Marnie knows a lot of men, and she has apparently slept with them all.
Among that number is Rowan Dillon, who has also recently purchased a home in Sam and Marnie’s secluded neighborhood. Sam and Rowan share a troubled past; they were previously involved while Rowan was still married. Sam didn’t know that he was married at the time, and Rowan’s wife was heavily into drugs. Sam and Rowan’s relationship ended badly, and at first he is the last person she wants to see. But as they explore Marnie’s disappearance together, Rowan seems to be the only person Sam can trust. When Sam starts getting threatening phone calls herself, she relies on Rowan for protection – and things between them start heating up again. But can they find out what happened to Marnie before Sam is harmed herself?
Tall, Dark, and Deadly is an uneven book, and I had trouble assigning it a grade. At times (mostly the middle and end of the book) I could hardly put it down. Then suddenly the characters would sound stilted or unnatural. This is especially true at the beginning of the book, when the wide cast is being introduced.
The huge number of characters is probably the book’s chief flaw. Sam and Rowan are on stage often enough that by the end they are fairly well-developed, and their relationship is one of the best parts of this book. But the sheer number of secondary characters overwhelms the reader. None are adequately developed; they all seem like so much window dressing. This presents a problem during the climax of the book, when the villain is revealed. I never would have guessed who he was, but then I never would have picked any suspect. With so many characters milling around, the reader never gains enough insight into any of their motives. At least eight people could have been chosen as the villain just as easily, and it wouldn’t have changed the book at all.
Though the lack of character development marred the ending, the rest of the suspense was well done. The book is set in South Florida, and the Everglades play a prominent part in the plot, providing an eerie background. Graham lives in Florida, and you can tell, because the whole setting comes alive. I could almost smell the swamp air and see the dull glint of the alligator’s eyes.
If you enjoy suspense, you could do worse than this book. At times, the eerie setting made for a real page-turner. But it just wasn’t tight enough to have the right impact at the end. If the cast had been cut in half, it would have made for a much better book. Perhaps next time Graham will exercise some judicious pruning.