Just Before Daybreak
by Elizabeth Turner, historical (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7356-9

I am not too fond of stories like Just Before Daybreak, but the author manages to make the main characters so likeable that I find myself enjoying this story despite my reservations with the plot and the characters.

Claire Sorenson is a maid in the Garrett household. She is in love with the very married Cole Garrett all her life, because he is tall and handsome and all. Lucky for her, his wife is Bad because she doesn't like taking care of kids and is always asking her husband for his attention. Wife is murdered and Cole is arrested. But Claire, who also doubles as the nanny of the Garrett kid, knows that Cole is innocent - he has to be, because he is so handsome and powerful! - and offers herself as an alibi. He is released, hires her as the nanny, sleeps with her, and then realizes that he loves her. She's so happy.

So basically this is the story about a man who married into money, loses his inconvenient high-maintenance wife, and gets himself a pathetically grateful new wife who will live just to please him, will never argue with him, and will be content to remain silent and forever clean and cook and bear the kids, because she knows he loves her and she is too grateful to want anything else ever. So who was it again that said that romance novels cater to female fantasies? That person obviously has never read this book.

The murder mystery is very transparent and the clues so obvious that the characters come off as really dumb to take so long to piece the pieces of the puzzle together. Also, while Cole does treat dead wife Priscilla with some measure of respect, the author doesn't spare her blades when it comes to everything else unvirginal or unmaternal in this story. Yes, the villain is yet another psycho jealous bitch thing. It is as if women are incapable of anything other than violent crimes of passion.

Claire's singular blind faith and trust in Cole is stupefying. It will be nice if her infatuation develops into something more adult, but to the end she remains a starry-eyed bedazzled Mary Magdalene prostrating herself before the glory that is Cole.

Yet, despite everything, Claire doesn't actually do anything too stupid in this story. That girl also has some spine to stand up to the hero when he gets too overbearing, so her story with Cole isn't too much of a charity case on his part. As for Cole, he's a really nice guy in that he tries to be fair the best he could. If he acts in a thoughtless way towards Claire, he soon apologizes and makes up for it. So in a way, Claire's lucky that the object of her infatuation isn't a horridly alpha misogynist monster. Cole's borderline beta behavior goes a long way in making this relationship with Claire less dysfunctional than it could have been.

Just Before Daybreak isn't too original, but it's a pretty okay read in the end. No matter how screwed up Claire's blind faith to Cole can be at times, she and Cole seem to have something nice going. Oh well, maybe romance novels should cater to the guys sometimes too. So okay, guys, this one's for you. Enjoy.

Rating: 75

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