HarperTorch, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-054066-4
Romantic Suspense, 2004
The Edge of Midnight is Beverly Jenkins’s first published full-length romantic suspense. On one hand, I’m pleased to report that the author’s brand of sensible heroes and heroines translate very well from the nineteenth-century American setting to present day setting. On the other hand, the plot is a big “Oh my GOD!” It’s a horrific mess of implausible coincidences and there are so many aspects of the plot that may work in 1974 but certainly not in 2004.
Mykal Chandler and his brother run Nia, a vigilante group secretly affiliated with the Feds to take down drug dealers infesting the streets by any means necessary. One night, Myk is startled to find a woman breaking into a criminal’s house and stealing some diamonds. Not that he’s there in the house for sanguine reasons himself, but he tries to take the woman in. To his surprise, she whacks him hard in the head and shoots him before running away with the diamonds. This woman is Sarita Grayson. She’s a tough woman that grew up on the streets. Now she’s busy trying to run a neighborhood center for kids. The building where the center is run is going back to the city unless she can come up with seventeen thousand dollars in six days. A criminal acquaintance, whom she knows from her childhood days as his sister was her good friend, offers her the money provided she get him the diamonds. She refuses to deal with drug dealers, so he blackmails her instead. So here she is, on the run with the diamonds in her possession. Imagine her dismay when she learns that the drug dealer was killed while she was away. Never mind, she’ll just fence the diamonds to save the center!
At this point, I’m still okay with this story. I have some serious problems with the premise, but Sarita can really take care of herself and she kicks ass, and that’s enough for me for now. Then comes Myk announcing that he needs to get a wife to fend off the women seeking to get their clutches into him. He wants to be left alone to do his Nia Nia Nia on the drug dealers, see? So his recently reunited half-brother suggests that he knows a perfect candidate for a fake wife. Not knowing what happened between Myk and Sarita the night before, Anthony St Martin (“Saint”) takes his foster sister Sarita to Myk. Oops.
At this point, I’m flabbergasted by the author’s use of this ridiculous coincidence in her story, but okay, I am still along for the ride. Myk decides that he still wants Sarita to be his wife, not only to keep her safe now that nasty people may be looking for her and the diamonds, but also because he wants to teach the termagant who’s boss. And then Sarita says no – she’d take her chances on the streets because she isn’t aware of Nia and instead suspects Myk of being some corrupt scumbag. But he’s not taking no for an answer and drags her to the wedding whether she likes it or not.
As the story progresses, I find it increasingly more and more difficult to suspend my disbelief at this story. I have serious problems with the prologue, where Nia manages to break into a villain’s house to steal five million dollars worth of blood diamonds because apparently the house is only guarded by dogs and the safe is “inadequately” locked. Don’t these drug dealers and diamond smugglers invest in high-tech security measures anymore? Likewise, there are many moments of espionage and intrigue in this story that feel very dated, especially when I have TV shows like Alias and 24 throwing sophisticated villains and their complex stratagems at me every week. In this book, the diamond smugglers are so understaffed, I guess, that they have to get drug dealers with serious gambling addictions to be their courier guys because these guys are “anonymous”. And these courier guys get nobodies like Sarita to do their job because Sarita is “anonymous”. Really, the suspense elements in this book just don’t cut it, I’m afraid. Reading this book is like watching Dr No on TV after an episode of 24 – The Edge of Midnight is so hopelessly dated and unsophisticated that readers may find the book too simplistic and dumbed-down to be enjoyable. I certainly do, alas.
It’s unfortunate because aside from some stupid things they do that are necessitated by the author’s less than polished plot, Sarita and Myk are trademark Beverly Jenkins characters: smart, capable, and fit so well together. The love scenes may not be steamy compared to some other romantic suspense novels out there, but the chemistry is so well-done that the sexual tension cuts deep. The author’s sense of humor makes itself felt more prominently here than her previous books – at least, I don’t remember the sly humor prominent in the banters here as so strongly present in her last few books. On the whole, I really like Myk and Sarita, the latter especially as strong and capable heroines that manage to handle themselves well to get out of dangerous situations are very rare in today’s romance novels.
The Edge of Midnight is a mixed success. On one hand, Ms Jenkins proves that smart and capable characters will work well in any setting, present or past. On the other hand, the plot of this book is embarrassing as it is filled with coincidences, plot implausibilities, and villains so dumb that I wonder how they lasted that long in the organized crime business. And conversely, what took Nia so long to bust their shady no-good behinds. I can only hope that the author’s next contemporary romance will have a plot that doesn’t make me feel like I’m reading something published in the 1970s.