The Dark Gate
Pamela Palmer’s debut romance The Dark Gate is the best of Silhouette’s new Nocturne line that I’ve read so far. It benefits from having an intriguing plot that avoids most of the usual paranormal tropes (no vampires here!) as well as a genuinely unsettling villain who actually gave me the creeps.
A rapist is on the loose in Washington D.C. and the police are having little luck finding the assailant who seems to be able to leave his victims with no memories of what happened to them. Detective Jack Hallihan is already frustrated by the lack of leads in the case, but it’s not the only problem he has to contend with. All his life, he’s heard voices in his head day and night. He believes it’s the same madness that afflicted his father, and Jack has no intention of giving in to it. But now the voices are getting louder, pushing his already strained psyche to its breaking point. Then a chance encounter introduces him to attorney Larsen Vale, a woman whose touch seemingly silences the voices in his mind.
Larsen knows what it’s like to cope with an inexplicable ability. When she was a child, she experienced premonitions of death, seeing those she loved the most die before it happened. She hasn’t had a premonition in years. Then, while at a wedding reception, she’s suddenly struck by a horrifying vision. An odd albino man enters the room and everyone else immediately begins to obey his every command like zombies. As he prepares to rape a bridesmaid, he orders the rest of the crowd to kill two of the partygoers: a man whose identity she can’t see – and Larsen herself. Before her eyes, Larsen witnesses their deaths at the hands of the crowd. What’s more, the strange man seems to see her watching him through the vision.
Horrified by what she saw, Larsen stumbles out of the building, and into Jack’s arms. When her vision comes true and a man is killed at the reception just moments later, Larsen can’t help feeling guilty that she didn’t try to stop it. So when she has her next vision about the strange man and his next attack, she sends Jack to the scene without telling him how she knows what she saw. Who, or perhaps more importantly, what, is this man with the apparent ability to control people so completely? Larsen and Jack may be the only ones who can find out and stop a terrible fate from befalling the world.
A compelling storyline and fascinating subject matter made this a book I tore through in a couple of hours. While I love paranormals, I’m pretty much vampired and werewolfed out at this point, so I really appreciated the freshness of Palmer’s premise. The novelty factor alone enhances the mystery of the plot. The author doesn’t show all her cards right from the start, slowly revealing what the villain is capable of, who/what he is, and his ultimate goal, as the characters struggle to find answers themselves.
It’s not often that a romance novel villain gets to me anymore, but the bad guy here was truly creepy. The author portrays Larsen’s visions of the villain’s evil deeds so effectively that they’re as disturbing to the reader as they are to Larsen without even getting too explicit. The fast-paced plot keeps the story moving at a good clip, as the author turns the screws on her characters and forces them to face greater odds and tougher obstacles. The sense of building tension is well-maintained throughout, building to a riveting climactic scene.
This is definitely a book I read more for the paranormal suspense storyline than the romance. The love story is okay, but for most of the book it just feels like something that pops up every once in a while, usually in the form of sex, when it’s convenient to the plot. This is very much a plot-driven story and that’s what kept me turning the pages. The characters are somewhat wooden and it took a while for me to warm up to them. The character development is a little light. Both Larsen and Jack are basically defined by their angst about their paranormal abilities, and the author doesn’t do enough to deepen them as people beyond that. It also takes perhaps a little too long for the characters’ sexual relationship to deepen into something more.
Even so, The Dark Gate was the kind of paranormal romance I’ve been hungry for lately: two people facing extraordinary circumstances and life-and-death odds in an exciting, atypical plot. For anyone else who loves paranormals but gags at the idea of reading about another vampire, this should hit the spot.