DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0766-7
While this edition of Disappearing Nightly is published in 2012 and bears a copyright date of 2011, the author’s note reveals that this book is actually older than the packaging may suggest. A quick search on Google reveals that this book was first published back in 2006 by Harlequin’s Luna line, and the author is upfront about how this book didn’t do too well then.
DAW purchased the next book in the series, and now, after six years, Ms Resnick has the rights of this book back. DAW then happily releases this book again and the rest, as they say, is history. According to the author’s note, some revisions had been made here and there to update the story, but basically there are no major changes to distinguish this from the older edition. It’s all good to me as I didn’t read this one the first time around, but if you have, you should take note of this.
Reading this book, a part of me wonders whether a reason why this book didn’t do too well back then was because it isn’t a typical romantic urban fantasy. Oh, I know, the Luna line isn’t exactly romantic fantasy, but as I’ve always said, when it comes to the Harlequin brand, readers can’t help expecting hot burning love in those pages. Yes, this is a story that is more of a paranormal mystery romp with a developing romance arc, instead of a romantic urban fantasy.
There are no Immortals, Shifters, Guardians, Defenders, Warriors, Brotherhoods, and other “We are big men with bigger pee-pees, so fall in love with us and buy our books!” clichéd marketing gimmicks present here. There is a Collegium, but as readers shall discover, they are not exactly muscle-bound seven footer Fabio-lookalikes with a need to have sex every two hours with their soul mates. They aren’t even that competent, heh.
The heroine of this book – and the series – is Esther Diamond. She’s human, a struggling actress hoping to make it big without having to wait too many tables. When this story opens, she is the understudy of a D-list pop star Golly Gee in an off-Broadway musical Sorcerer!. When Esther is not secretly hoping that Golly will somehow leave the show so that she can play the lead role, she cavorts on stage as a near-naked nymph. It’s not exactly her dream role, and in fact, she refuses to let her parents watch the show, not until she gets a bigger role that allows her to wear more clothes.
And then, Golly disappears during the climax of the musical. She is placed into the standard “step inside and the magician will make you vanish” prop – a spinning cage in this case – only to vanish. Esther gets to play the lead role in Golly’s absence, and her initial elation dissipates when she begins receiving notes telling her not to step into the spinning cage. What if there is something weird going on – what will happen if she steps into the cage? Will she vanish into thin air like Golly?
She soon meets Maximillian Zadok, an affable elderly gentleman who turns out to be a long-lived member of the Collegium, an order of folks with the power of magic and what not that are devoted to combating Evil in the world. Max is the superhero in charge of New York City and the surrounding areas, but unfortunately, he’s not the most worldly person around. Luckily for him, Esther’s here to help with the Nancy Drew stuff, and they soon learn that there are other people disappearing during similar magic acts. Really, what is going on here?
Disappearing Nightly is praised by Jennifer Crusie in one of the blurbs as a “paranormal screwball comedy adventure” and Mary Jo Putney calls Esther Diamond the “Stephanie Plum of urban fantasy”. Well, they are right when it comes to the screwball part – this story has Esther and her increasingly large entourage generally bumbling around until they discover the mastermind behind the whole thing, and only Esther and, to some degree, Max seem to be the most sane people of the bunch.
When it comes to humor, this one delivers the good stuff pretty well. It has some very amusing scenes here, and Esther, while showing the obligatory sarcasm and cynicism, manages to be amusing without coming off as forced or trying too hard. While the plot isn’t the most exciting one around, it’s well paced and nicely put together in a way that compels me to read through the whole thing in one sitting.
The reason I’m not more enthusiastic about this book is this: by the last page, the characters remain on the one-dimensional side to me. I feel that I have known Esther and Max only superficially. But this is fine, as there will be other books to develop these characters further. The secondary characters here, however, remain flat stereotypes. The drag queens, the ineffectual Wall Street guy, those Texans, the bitch boss and her whipped husband – they are exactly what you’d expect them to be, and they never develop into anything more.
The comparisons to Stephanie Plum only accentuate this: say what you will about Janet Evanovich repeating the same five punchlines like some trained monkey performing on cue, she is a master at utilizing her colorful secondary characters until they make a deep dent in my mind. These secondary characters may be stereotypes, but they are larger-than-life stereotypes that work to give the stories their distinct flavor. In this book, however, the secondary characters feel like mass-manufactured stereotypes neatly taken out from their boxes and posed artfully in this story. They just don’t make an impact on me, and I can’t remember the names of most of those people. If they don’t come back in later books, that makes them even more of a wasted opportunity – the author had them here, but she couldn’t make the most out of them.
At any rate, I’ve had a good time reading Disappearing Nightly. The rather forced romance between Esther and Detective Connor Lopez, the hunky cop assigned to the case, doesn’t reduce my enjoyment, most likely because I’m entertained by so many other things in this story. I think I’ll stay around for a while to see what happens next to Esther.