Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-399-58534-0
Historical Romantic Suspense, 2019 (Reissue)
Sure, no author is expected to write in the same style or genre even when the muse is gone, but the problem with Amanda Quick is that she still structures her stories on a fundamental level in the same way that she structured her more romance-heavy stories in the past. The most obvious things she has done are to give the villains more space to go “Muahaha!” and these villains’ monologues have become longer, but there isn’t enough done to make her stories resemble something closer to a suspense and mystery romp. This method is a problem because the fundamental structure of the author’s formulaic stories do not generate suspense – back in the old days, it was a good way to get the hero and the heroine close together and to showcase how well they work as a team, but no reader was at the edge of her seat going, “Oh, oh! What a twist! I didn’t see that coming!”
Needless to say, this is not the way to go when it comes to writing a romantic suspense, and The Other Lady Vanishes is the result of such a misfire. The title is a spoiler, by the way, but most people will realize this only after they’ve read the whole thing, so there’s no harm done I suppose.
Adelaide Brooks spent a few months at a loonybin – this story is set in the 1930s – before she escaped and ended up in Burning Cove, California. There, a kindly old lady gave her a job and even paid for her first month rent, and the new hot guy in town, the wealthy businessman widower Jake Truett, shows up at the arty-farty herbal tea shop where Adelaide works just to give her his serious, brooding, “I’m a sexy serial killer” glare that makes her go ooh inside. Before anyone thinks this is a spiritual prequel to Hidden Talents, a medium dies shortly after giving a dramatic pronouncement of dire danger and death, and there is no shortage of degenerate film stars and their hangers-on in town to cast one’s suspicion on.
The romance is barely here. Sure, she’s not beautiful like other ladies, but she’s smart and intelligent, blah blah blah while he’s not handsome like other men but he exudes tensed masculinity and dark brooding vibes, but unlike every other romance with similar clones in the past, these two abruptly move into a kiss later in the story and then, sex, and then, a brief mention of a happy ending. This one is not going to be mistaken for a straightforward romance anytime soon.
And that’s the problem, because this story is structurally similar to all the author’s past stories. There is no suspense, because the author lays down her cards for all to see within the first five chapters. Each time a potential villain shows up to brag to the reader about what a cartoon character he or she is, the author tells me everything, from the character’s background story in depth to the character’s current machination. So yes, there is a drug ring in town, and I know that before the quarter-way point of the story. Why can’t the author show me the twists and turns of the plot as the main characters discover them? Imagine how interesting the story will be if I follow Adelaide and Jake as they investigate things and discover how this nice guy is a degenerate and that nice lady is a drug kingpin. Then the story will have layers, interesting ones, that will be revealed as I turn the pages and my rear end inches closer to the edge of the seat.
But no, just tell me everything, and let me try not to yawn as I turn the pages and wait for the main characters to catch up with me. Prime suspense there, really. I can barely contain myself in excitement.
And really, instead of showing me things, the author has everybody here going into long monologues as if the best monologue will earn them a Wikipedia entry or something. Characters talk about things they already know, villains practically give a speech while holding people at gunpoint, and even when they are alone, various characters will launch into long-winded interior monologues about their entire past, present, and future. Suspense, what suspense? Let these people talk one another to death and feel the breathless tension that results.
The author’s formula works better in a more romantic story, because laying out the feels and motivations are part of the game, to make the characters and their emotions come off as more alive. For a suspense story, however, this way of structuring a story is terrible because obfuscation of motivations until the time is right is the name of the game, and this method works completely against that.
All this is a shame because the underlying mystery arc is a pretty interesting, and even tragic, one. However, the author’s inability or lack of desire to switch up her formula and give this story the mystery and suspense treatment it deserves ends up instead turning The Other Lady Vanishes into a lazy lame duck of a dud.