Shades of Twilight

By Linda Howard, 1996, Contemporary Romance
Pocket Books, 378 pages, $5.99, ISBN #0671019716

I have loved many books by Linda Howard – this is not one of them. I grew up in Alabama, where Shades of Twilight is set, and I’ve been fighting the very sort of stereotypes it depicts my whole life. I’ve been reading romance since I was a teen, and while I’ve read scenes of rape and incest before, they didn’t offend me as the scenes in this book did. This book is filled to brimming with “yuck” factor.

Roanna and Jessie are cousins. When Roanna was seven and Jessie 14, Roanna’s mother and father and Jessie’s mother were killed in a car accident. They both moved into Davencourt, their grandmother and family matriarch’s mansion. Jessie was the beautiful, graceful one, and either in spite of or because of her illegitimacy, her grandmother’s favorite. Roanna was the clumsy and troublesome one. Webb Tallent has lived in the mansion with his mother since the death of his father. On the night of the accident Lucinda informs him that he will inherit Davencourt and half of her fortune upon her death. She also would not be opposed to his marrying Jessie, who along with Roanna would be made heirs to the family fortune.

Ten years later they all still live at the mansion. Webb and Jessie have an unhappy marriage. Roanna secretly pines for Webb. Webb is so busy running the family business he has no idea that Jessie if having an affair. An incestuous affair with her father. This makes for some seriously gross reading, especially since she sought out the man by reading her mother’s diary and started the affair herself.

One day Roanna finds Jessie and her father-lover in the middle of it. That night Jessie catches Webb and Roanna kissing. An argument ensues, and the next morning Jessie is found murdered. Webb stands accused, and other than Roanna, the family turns their back on him. After he is acquitted, he leaves town and disappears.

The remainder of the story occurs ten years later, when Lucinda is dying. She has hired investigators to find Webb and then sends Roanna to bring him home because he is the only one who can keep the business running after she’s gone. Of course Webb falls in love with the still-pining Roanna. But there’s a hitch. Someone is trying to kill Webb. I will say that the identity of Jessie’s killer came as a complete surprise to me. The ending of the story was the only part of Shades of Twilight that I enjoyed.

Now the parts that I didn’t like, and that includes Roanna and Webb. Why did he believe the nasty things Jessie told him about Roanna when he knew Jessie was a manipulative liar? Why did he spurn her at Jessie’s funeral when she was the only one who trusted him? As for Roanna, she started out as a sympathetic character when she was seven, and even at seventeen there were a few things I liked about her, but by the last part of the book she became a doormat to both her grandmother and Webb.

Author Howard, who definitely knows better and usually does better, failed in the writing axiom of “show don’t tell,” especially during the first half. Too much of this story was told as background and there was a distinct lack of action in the first half of the book. The second half was an improvement where that is concerned, but I couldn’t get past the two unlikable characters. Had I not read this book to review it, I doubt I would have finished it. No doubt I will buy books by this author in the future, but Shades of Twilight was beneath her skills as a creator of characters and teller of tales.

— Barb Kelderman

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