by Jessica Hall, contemporary (2004)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41130-7
Jessica Hall has ditched her convoluted action-packed romances for a more conventional cop-and-suspect romantic suspense story in Into The Fire. On the bright side, the author has created a credible suspense. On the not-so-positive side, the heroine is the epitome of everything a passive victim would be, and as a result, this book comes off like a "save the pathetic nitwit" tale.
Isabel "Sable" Duchesne encounters Marc LeClare under an unconventional circumstance, and their relationship ends on a sour note when Marc, now an up-and-coming politician in New Orleans, is killed in a warehouse fire. Sable is rescued from the fire and unsurprisingly, the cops has many questions to ask her. The officer in charge is Lt Jean-Delano Gamble, who is of course the guy she parted ways from back when they were kiddies and they were So In Love until Contrivances tear them apart, Oh The Pain. In romance novels after all, dead bodies reunite idiots that broke up under silly circumstances more successful than any other plot devices, to a point where every romance heroine that wants to make up with their high school or college beau should just take up permanent residence in the nearest morgue.
There is naturally a threat on Sable's life. Sable, however, doesn't make it easy on herself by coming into the story filled with every conceivable distress and issues. She is, of course, beautiful, but she has virtually no self-esteem thanks to a past filled with humiliating psychological and emotional abuse by pretty much everybody in her past. This leads to her believing that she cannot do anything right or that the world is really out to get her so she will shut up when she is better off telling JD information that would make his investigations easier. Then again, I doubt that JD will listen. He is more like the author's unreasonably distrustful and arrogant heroes when Jessica Hall was writing as Gena Hale.
As I've mentioned, the mystery is better than the average romantic suspense novel, with credible red herrings and suspenseful plot twists that contribute to the whodunnit drama. But Into The Fire is also a story where much of the problem comes as much as from the heroine and the hero as from the villains. Sable is so devoid of self-esteem and her inertia when it comes to helping herself is irritatingly high. She has no personality as much as she is a one-dimensional damsel in distress. If this isn't a romance novel where nuptials to a human male is a prerequisite, she'd end up marrying a lifetime subscription of Prozac. Pair her with JD is like watching an Animal Network documentary about the mating habits of the seals. The bull is a very big sized brute while the female is a tiny thing flailing away under the huge male's body. There is always a danger of the female seal getting crushed to death before the mating ding-a-ling dance is done. While reading about poor Sable's desperate and frantic search for a backbone as well as a clue, I don't know who's the suffocating female seal here - me or she.
Still, if you're a fan of Sharon Sala's romantic suspenses which are invariably filled with fragile porcelain princess heroines, this book may be to your liking. As a plus, Jessica Hall can write credible suspense while Sharon Sala will have problems differentiating a forensic scalper from a kitchen spoon when it comes to crafting well-structured romantic suspense stories.
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