Darkling I Listen
by Katherine Sutcliffe, contemporary (2001)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-13152-0

Memo to the cover artist: black does not show well on a ruby red background. While it's nice you make it hard for anyone without a magnifying glass to make out Harriet Klausner's predictably lavish praise for this book, it is not commercially wise to make the author's name on the cover almost illegible.

Now, the story. Brandon Carlyle is a has-been once hotshot Hollywood actor who is now in hiding in the incredibly close-knit town of Ticky Creek, population gullible. There, he lives with his Uncle Henry and Aunt Bernice, both who refuse to believe that Brandon is bad. Hey, the man who have screwed half - or more - the population of Hollywood and LA, he may be involved in kinky junkie habits, he may be alcohol's best buddy, and he may be involved in a scandalous DUIAKS (driving under the influence of alcohol and kinky sex) accident that caused the death of a porn star, but Brandon is a nice guy. It's all his slut mother's fault.

Alyson James is a reporter who understands. She wants Brandon to be her stepping stone. If he will let her write his autobiography (to counter the unofficial ones, of course), they will both win. She, a tabloid reporter, will get respectability, and he, well, he get his story told.

Say what? Since when is writing white-washed, censored "official" autobiographies, essentially an exercise in ego and vainglory, a step towards respectable journalism?

Brandon and Alyson spark, have instantaneous sexual attraction, and they could have been so happy were not for Brandon's being stalked by so many people. This includes a fan calling herself "Anticipating" who writes him crazy letters and may have stalked him all the way to this little backward county and the local sheriff and his sister who both have personal vandettas against Brandon.

If Darkling I Listen sounds overwrought to you, it is. Brandon's fame is one for the funny - the author drops names of everyone from the late Princess Di and JFK, Jr to Barbara Walters that I really go, "No way, Brandon is really unreal in a whacked way, man." Meanwhile, the population of Ticky Creek don't seem to watch TV at all, because they just don't care about Brandon's sins (or it's outright denial for them). But I do know they keep up with modern times, though, because they have a condom vending machine. (Then again, I've realized that when it comes to sex, everybody keeps up with the times.) The entire glorifying of Brandon for the very sins the two female secondary characters (sluts, of course) have to be "redeemed" for really sabotages this story in my opinion. This isn't a story of redemption far more than a story of people rushing to whitewash and pamper a hero.

But Darkling I Listen nonetheless remains very enjoyable. The author can tell a good, gripping story - she grabs me by the throat and never lets go. All this despite me guessing correctly the identity of the villain early in the story and me noticing all the loopholes, exaggerations, melodrama, and overwrought plot twists (especially the grand climax of the story). I can't help feeling that Darkling I Listen would have made a better historical than a contemporary. I could accept the tone of this story in a bombastic historical, but set the story in modern day America and it's a tough buy.

Rating: 80

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