Out Of The Dark
by Sharon Sala, contemporary (2003)
MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 1-55166-740-1

Sharon Sala's latest, Out Of The Dark, deals with child prostitution and cults, but unfortunately, horrifically saccharine handling of these issues make this book a pretty awful read. Fans of Catherine Anderson may love this one though, as this book is a perfect cookie-cutter example of Trauma Porn (dark issues, black and white oversimplified and oversweet "hero saves the heroine from every problem she faces" treatment, ugh).

In Trauma Porn, people with AIDS are synonymous with All-Good All-Knowing Martyrs, and in this case, Raphael is a child prostitute that has AIDS from his lifestyle. Our heroine jade Cochrane was also a child prostitute (her mother kidnapped her and they both joined a cult where Jade was then made to service pedophiles) and Raphael saved her when she was twelve. Since Abused Heroines tend to have some artistic abilities to make readers shed a tear or two, Jade is a street artist that creates bee-yoo-ti-fool paintings and stuff. Jade doesn't have AIDS, by the way. (If she does, this book won't be labelled "romance", it will be "women's fiction".)

Her long-lost daddy recognizes a painting of Jade's mother and hires Luke Kelly (ex-cop, PI, template hero) to find his daughter. Luke finds Jade and promptly falls in love with her fragile porcelein princess state. Jade says she doesn't trust anyone but under Luke's sexual healing, she blooms into some bizarre Martha Stewart sort. Meanwhile, the men from Jade's old cult want her dead so it's up to Luke to protect her. Meanwhile, Rafe is dying - isn't that cute? HIV+ dying people are so noble, so wonderful, and best of all, they die at the end after assuring our hero and heroine what wonderful people we all are! Give me a break, Ms Sala. It is offensive to overuse that "dying HIV+ man" stereotype to create some annoying Jesus Christ figure of martyrhood - let these HIV+ stereotypes die with dignity, please, instead of becoming footpillows for our heroines' insecurities.

The villains in this book are over-the-top evil while good people are so noble, their halos shine so bright and holy like the Scientology UFO that is coming to save everybody from doom and destruction. Jade is a cookie-cutter heroine that transforms from all-round victim to all-round lover in a blink of eye while Luke is rather creepy in how he gets off on Jade's victim status. The way he pressures her into a relationship with him after knowing how she was sexually abused, without any consideration for her feelings in the matter, strikes me as rather disturbing.

Out Of The Dark sees Sharon Sala tackling on a serious issue in her story, but her lazy overreliance on stereotypes and rescue fantasies to make up for the lousy romantic suspense fails to make this work. No character and no situation in this book rings real because everything is depicted in an unrealistically stark black and white way. Except maybe the romance, which is several shades of creepy because the hero is obviously enjoying lording his protector status over a victim heroine. Oh well, this book will join the increasing number of duds released by this author in her passionate attempt to be a respectable romantic suspense author. She still has a long way to get there.

Rating: 48

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