by Jayne Ann Krentz, contemporary (2005)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-13959-9
In the first few chapters of Falling Awake, this book is starting to feel like, perhaps, lightning has struck Jayne Ann Krentz with a huge surge of creativity and this book won't be so formulaic for words. I enjoy the banters between heroine Isabel Wright and hero Ellis Cutler and the developments in their personality as they proceed from meeting to snogging to, er, more. But as the story progresses, the mystery pops to the foreground, and once more Jayne Ann Krentz demonstrates that she is more like the scriptwriter for an episode of a Scooby-Doo cartoon than a credible romantic suspense author.
Isabel is happy to leave behind her days of working at a psychic hotline to work in the more credible Belvedere Center for Sleep Research as the research assistant of Dr Martin Belvedere. The thing is, Dr Martin is considered a loonybin in the academia for his yammerings about humans with some psychic ability that manifests itself when they dream. When Dr Martin is found dead (by Isabel), his son takes over the Center, closes his father's department (the son never likes the father that much anyway), and fires Isabel with extreme prejudice. Now, the thing is, Dr Martin Belvedere may be pooh-poohed by his peers by the US secret intelligence bodies certainly see things differently. Apparently US Intelligence places great value in the psychic abilities of some gifted individuals among its rank (insert your own morbid fatalistic joke about US Intelligence, usually tied with recent real-life events, here) and one of these agencies works closely with Dr Martin. Isabel interprets the dreams presented in the reports from that agency Frey-Salter, Inc to the Center. The head of Frey-Salter, Inc sends Ellis to try and get Isabel to work directly with Frey-Salter, but Isabel has other ideas about her future career. Meanwhile, an enemy from Ellis' past may be behind the recent spates of suspicious deaths among the staff of the Center and Isabel may be in more danger than she realizes.
The premise of this story is quite interesting. The characters are, too. I like Isabel and her determination to have more control over her career rather than merely following orders as well as her decision to live life a little more recklessly. One thing about Ms Krentz is that while other authors may use this "heroines gone wild" premise in one hundred Harlequin Blaze stories, Ms Krentz can still portray Isabel's newfound determination as a spontaneous progression of the heroine's character development rather than a contrived plot device to get some idiotic heroine to have wild sex and regret the consequences that will follow. Ellis is a rather typical hero on a one-man show to nab the bad guy despite his boss thinking that Ellis is just being paranoid about an enemy of Frey-Salter coming back from the dead to strike back at them through the Center. The secondary characters are nicely drawn too without being too intrusive.
Unfortunately, the story ends up being more like a Scooby-Doo cartoon than a halfway decent paranormal mystery-cum-romance. The romance is actually quite good because unlike the author's last few books, this is one that feels more balanced to me in terms of romantic content versus suspense elements. The mystery doesn't overpower the romance or vice-versa, both manage to exist very nicely in here with the romance being adequately developed to my satisfaction.
It is the suspense elements that have me snorting in disbelief. For example, about the villain that everyone but Ellis believes to be dead, he died in a manner comparable to the classic case of a villain's car falling off the cliff to explode - no one actually knows for sure that the villain is in the car in that scene so it is very likely that the villain will show up later in the story, as anyone who has watched enough cheesy police dramas from the 1980s can testify. Therefore, to have a supposedly credible US Intelligence agency to believe that the villain has died... hey, Ms Krentz, we are no longer in the 1980s where it's okay if the story is just plain whacked as long as Don Johnson wears those tight, tight jeans. Classic but befuddling tricks of this author are present: the suspect always dies after giving our heroine a mysterious phone call promising some evidence of great importance and the villain always show up to hold everyone at gunpoint just as our main characters figure out the identity of the villain, for example.
Just as it is with Zamar and other concepts created by this author, the dream theories in this book remain opaque. I have no idea what Ms Krentz is babbling about when she talks about "Level 5" dreamers (people who retain control over their minds when they dram, I think) or "lucid dreaming" - she doesn't go into details as much as she hammers the same jargons on and on in her story as if relentless repetition will magically lead to enlightenment among her readers. The writing feels a little off as well - some of the conversations between the characters in this book come off like passages from a textbook at times while at other times the characters are telling each other things that they should have already known and therefore really have no excuse to be rehashing them again.
Falling Awake comes off like a book where the author has some momentary jolts of creativity but eventually things peter off halfway and this book soon becomes another bad Scooby-Doo script from the author that comes complete with villains that actually cackle without irony. There are more interesting elements in the story and the characters are actually well-drawn to make Falling Awake much more enjoyable than the author's last few books, but at the end of the day, the author falls back onto being tried-and-true and outright predictable in order to finish her story. It looks like a new good and interesting Jayne Ann Krentz book has to remain, for now, just another dream.
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