Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evie
by Marianne Stillings, contemporary (2005)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-073476-0

Listen closely as heroine Evangeline "Evie" Randall explains why she will never ever eat a crab.

"That's beside the point. A decent crab would have stayed. They were half his responsibility, after all, whether he loved her or not."

She will not eat crabs because the male crab does not stay with the female crab to raise the eggs after mating season is over.

She is not joking. I repeat. She is not joking.

Maybe it's just my bias showing here as I am a card-carrying member of the Die-Die-Die club advocating the slow and painful death to idiot romance heroines everywhere, but Evie tortures me slowly and agonizingly with each turn of the page. I've said in the author's debut that the heroine in that book can't stand up to the hero and allows him to drive her into a frenzy of flabbergasted indignance too easily. Here, Evie is pretty much a walking punchline because she has zero - zip, zilch, nadda - sense of humor. She actually blames herself for not realizing that her Dear Daddy Figure had cancer and her not being there to share his pain. Even better, when the dead man's testament revealed that he knew that he was the target of a murderer, Evie is further anguished because if only she somehow knows that someone is out to kill Thomas Evanston Heyworth, she could have at least have him confide in her. I have to love a woman who makes everything all about her. I can understand why Thomas wants to spend his last few days alone because one chapter of this overly-emotional martyr-prone passive and humorless poster girl for the consequences of irregular psychiatric evaluation has me wishing that the world is a little more silent too.

The plot of the story sinks this book although Evie is the thousand-ton burden that helps the ship sink faster. In Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evie, the author tries to combine the thrills of amateur sleuthing, a treasure hunt, and a conventional murder but the result isn't an intriguing Agatha Christie-like plot as much as it is a bewildering mess of inconsistencies. As I've alluded to earlier, Thomas Evanston Heyworth is dead. A famous writer of mystery novels in the last four decades, he adopted Evie when she was barely a teen and raised her. Maybe he flogged her daily or something because Evie turned out to a complete stereotype of an overly-emotional creature embodying every irritating trait of a frigid prune with the emotional maturity of an insecure teenaged girl. Anyway, upon his death, Thomas through his videotaped will reveals that he has arranged for a scavenger hunt that will give the winner everything in his huge wealth and estate - and even better, this hunt will also lead the winner to his murderer! I have to love a man who will lead the ones he claims to love to the welcoming arms of his killer.

Evie is teamed with Thomas' estranged stepson Max Galloway, who is a cop. Evie hates Max because Thomas and Max never talked after Thomas married Max's mother and Evie is therefore all about hating Max too because she thinks that Max is the Bad Son personified. At the end of the book, Thomas reveals that he is hoping to matchmake those two to give one lovely quasi-incestuous "My Foster Daughter and My Stepson Are Having Sex and That Is Too Cool, Woooo!" fanfare. That's nice, but what will be even nicer is Thomas not, therefore, fueling Evie's prejudice against Max. Won't that make more sense, trying to matchmake two people he claims to care for by telling them that the other person is a nice and attractive someone they should meet? Then again, he wants to lead them and his other friends to the arms of his killer so what do I know? Maybe he hates them all and wants them dead.

The clues the treasure hunters have are passages from Thomas' books. These excerpts are deliberately campy and corny, but they also shed no clue to the reader in order to even try and follow the treasure trail along with the hunters. Therefore, instead of trying to get me to analyze the clues along with the characters, I am stuck like a hapless shepherd watching by the sidelines as the sheep run wild and start dancing on a busy highway. Watching silly people running up and down is so not my thing, I tell you. A little attempt to lure me into the story will be nice.

As for the romance, it's DOA because Max has to do everything. Evie, as I've said, is practically lobotomized because she cannot appreciate a joke, much less a pun, if it comes up to her and kicks her in the jaw. Max has to be the one constantly providing the wisecracks, jokes, and what-not, and the one-man-show becomes exasperating because Evie is too easily baited and too easily annoyed, thus preventing any genuine banter that would illuminate her chemistry with Max better. When Max starts saying that Evie is the one for him because she challenges him, I scratch my head at that because Evie isn't a challenge, she's a complete pushover and he knows all the buttons to push. Evie comes off as a pathetically insecure and very needy woman searching for a male authority figure since she was eleven. That's okay. What's not okay is how Evie at the same time comes off as very immature in her abrasiveness towards Max and unlikeably frigid and humorless when it comes her reacting to his flirtations or teasings. A completely lobotomized heroine like Evie is not a pleasant thing to read about. The best thing I can say about her is that... er... well, maybe her spelling has improved since she was eleven, I suppose.

The scavenger hunt plot doesn't make sense because it is already badly flawed fundamentally, what with the bewildering premise of a dead man who was supposed to be benevelont, who wanted to matchmake folks, yet who was at the same time leading them to danger. The identity of the villain is easy to deduce and it's a long wait for the characters to catch up with me. A big thank-you to Evie for making that wait feels like ten thousand years of pain. Max, at least he tries very hard, I suppose. He has a lifetime now to try and get Evie to crack a joke so I wish him luck. He'll need it. She doesn't eat crabs because she thinks that the species are irresponsible, after all.

I hate to say this, I really do, but with a premise that doesn't make sense and a relationship between two people that are devoid of chemistry and consists of two people often reminding me of two silly teenaged kids pulling at each other's hair, I am really hard-pressed to find a reason to pretend that I enjoy reading this book even a little. Ms Stillings should try to come up with a heroine with some spontaneous sense of humor some time. I can and would have tolerated the plot holes better if Evie isn't at the same time such a total pain to read about.

Rating: 44

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