All Night Long
by Michelle Jerott, contemporary (1999)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-81066-2
Michelle Jerott's follow-up to her splendid debut Absolute Trouble is a hundred-eighty degree turn in terms of atmosphere and pace. There is no avenging hero, mafia boss, or heroine who can kick ass. Instead there's a photographer heroine and a grumpy hero whose only excursion into pugilism is a fisticuff session with a rival.
Annora Beckett is a photographer obsessed with trying to solve the mystery of a 1832 soldier who disappeared during the Black Hawk War. The soldier, Lt Lewis Hudson, is one of Annie's ancestor. Her search leads her to the farmranch of one Rik Magnusson, a tall, glorious Viking-warrior-like farmer who sets her hormones afire. He isn't too keen on having her around, however, but Annie is definitely sticking around.
This book can be divided into two halves: the first half, The Going Nowhere Part, and the second, Things Get Better A Lot. The first half, all the way to pages 180-something, is really slow and rather unfocused. It reads like a meandering day-to-day interaction that has sunny, cheery Annie invading Rik's personal space (despite her assurances that she wouldn't) and Rik pushing back. Rik's insistence on self-sustenance and his thick-as-lead pride make him seem like one of those ignorant, loud, blustery redneck fellow, while Annie's I'm happy, my, aren't we great today - look, beautiful day persona can grate after a while. And then, after dozens of pages of push-and-pull, Rik suddenly announces that he wants her and they waste no time jumping into bed. Really, I don't think they're ready to go to bed, not when they haven't even straightened out their feelings for each other.
But after page 180, Annie discovers Lewis' body and things get much, much interesting hereafter. Rik and Annie begin to show signs of humanity (i.e. they start to actually talk and face their feelings for each other). I have no idea what Rik's daughter is doing in the story, but she transforms from annoying brat to a rather sympathetic character around this time. Likewise, everyone significant seems to get some character development. I can't help but to wish the author has maintained this pace throughout the whole book.
Although I'm not too sure if I find Rik and Annie's relationship interesting. I find myself more intrigued by Lt Hudson's story. Ms Jerott starts each chapter with frustratingly short segments taken from Hudson's correspondences with his mother and his sweetheart. I find myself caring for this poor young man who died too young, and it is a testament of Ms Jerott's talent that she has me all twisted up in knots to know more about Hudson even when all she souped up are small, brief paragraphs. Ultimately, Lt Hudson's story is much, much more interesting than Annie and Rik's. I mean, how can I care more about a grumpy farmer's relationship with a cheery, rather flat heroine and his obnoxiously whiny daughter? Especially when Ms Jerott is serving up a story of a young soldier's increasing disillusionment with his idealism and his growing maturity, only to die tragically? It's like asking me to settle for cucumber soup when the tantalizing steak is right there, out of my reach.
Either way, All Night Long is a pretty good read, if an uneven one, but it lacks the intensity and deft, rich characterization of Absolute Trouble.
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