Into The Fire
by Anne Stuart, contemporary (2003)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-694-4

The last few romantic suspenses of Anne Stuart are pale shadows of the author's better books, and I'm heartbroken to say that I find Into The Fire the nadir of the author's downward slide from her former glory. I am aware that there are many fans that love this book, many that hate it, but me, I actually fall asleep midway through the book, and it's on a fine afternoon and I'm not even sleepy, mind you, until I start on the book, that is.

Jamie Kincaid, the dullest doormat this side of the universe, returns to her late cousin's place three months after Nate's death to take his possessions and pass them to Nate's mother. However, she finds herself in the garage with Dillon Gaynor instead. Dillon is Nate's close friend... once, and he has done all sorts of really bad things, including actively causing a horrifying trauma in Jamie's past. He steals her purse and slashes the tires of her car just to get her to stay with him. (Altogether now: "Oh, grow up!") She's too stupid to call the cops. Of course she is also too stupid in that she can't resist him, even when he treats her like something smelly caught on the sole of his shoe. Meanwhile, Nate's ghost lurks around wanting to kill everybody. I don't blame him.

I think this story is supposed to be "twisted", but the strongest emotion Jamie and Dillon can muster in me is pity. I really pity these two sad, sad people that somehow mistake their pathetic childishness for some romantic Byronesque sexy torture thingie. Dillon isn't tortured - he just has the maturity of a selfish ten-year old bully in the playground. I can't even muster any disdain on how he assumes that after everything horrible he has caused in Jamie's life, she actually owes him some pumpies. Dillon claims to be bad. But he is just a silly oaf whose whining about being bad and evil is grotesquely overblown in proportions when it comes to his actual character. He blows his deeds out of proportion just so that he can do as he please without having to face the consequences. To me, Dillon is not tortured as much as he's an over-the-top self-conscious wannabe of a bad boy. Real bad boys like Alex McDowell from Shadowlover or Richard Tiernan fron Nightfall will beat the crap out of the bratty Dillon until he cries for Mommy.

As for Jamie, I can only suggest that she check herself into some psychiatric ward and don't come out until 2026 at the earliest. She's pathetic. She's a victim, Dillon victimizes her, and she does not even know whether to love it or to hate it! If she's a sadistic type who loves being dominated, I'll be cheering her on. If she's a professional victim, I'll just hold my breath and chuck this book far away from me. But alas, Jamie is just confused in a very sad way.

Oh yes, much has been said about the first love scene that, in my opinion, really crosses the line to outright rape. I consider it rape not only because Dillon is openly ignoring Jamie's protests, Jamie doesn't seem to know what she wants or what she is doing (which, when it comes to Jamie, is not an unusual state). But whether this is rape or not, the whole scene actually leaves me cold. I find the scene as yet another testament to just how pitiful these two twits are.

Into The Fire stars two really sad and not-too-bright characters whose dysfunctional romance is actually more of a testament of how immature these two twits are. He treats her badly because he's too mentally stunted to do anything else. She can't stop him from treating her badly because she seems to be born without any spine, self-esteem, or brainpower. There's a pitiful ring to the love story, sort of like a junkie's confused dependency on her dope dealer, I guess.

As a novel about twisted relationships, Into The Fire is too weakly written and the characters are underdeveloped to be successful. Jamie and Dillon don't seem to be happy when they are having Bitterly Misanthrophic Mindless F**k, they don't seem to be happy when they aren't, and most of the time those two act like silly kids that still believe that pulling each other's pigtails is a sign of true love. All in all, a really puzzling story starring too really pitifully stupid characters that could use a long night's sleep, a tub of Prozac, and a permanent vacation in some nice and comfy padded-walled room, preferably far, far away from me.

I'm really, really, really hoping that the author's upcoming historical romance will be a much more readable experience than this. Then again, almost anything has to be better than this.

Rating: 48

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