One Dark Night by Jaid Black
(Berkley, $5.99, NC-17) ISBN 0-425-19526-0
Erotic e-book author, Black, moves into the print mainstream with what Berkley is calling a “sizzling erotic thriller.”

Dr. Nikki Adenike is a successful and powerful surgeon at Cleveland General Hospital. However, while her professional life is rewarding, her personal life is dead on arrival. That’s when the good doctor discovers the world of Domination/submission. Nothing gets Nikki’s rocks off more than the thought of being totally submissive to a man in the bedroom; and to fulfill her forbidden, secret fantasies she’s taken to scouring the Internet.

It’s through an online personal ad that she meets Richard. A respectable schoolteacher (Nikki hires a PI to check him out), he’s more than willing to play master to her sex slave. The two share a heated e-mail correspondence until Richard suggests they meet face to face. By this time Nikki is more than willing, but unfortunately it all goes wrong.

Detective Thomas Cavanah has been tracking the twisted serial killer “Lucifer” for years. A smooth talker who says all the right things, Lucifer has wormed his way into the lives of many accomplished, successful career women – only for them to end up dead in the most grisly of fashions. The case weighs on him heavily, and he’s about ready to give up hope, when a victim ends up escaping Lucifer’s clutches – and Dr. Nikki Adenike storms into Thomas’ life.

There’s a lot that works in One Dark Night and a lot that doesn’t. Most notably the romance is a real issue, and since Berkley has labeled the spine “romantic suspense,” it’s worth of a mention.

Adversarial relationships between hero and heroine rarely work, but they remain a staple among romance authors. Prior to escaping Lucifer, Nikki meets Thomas and decides she hates his guts on sight. Why? Because Thomas doesn’t believe Nikki’s physic best friend, Kim, when she goes to the police station to report her visions. And it’s not like Thomas is an ass to them either. He rationally tries to talk to both women, only to get labeled a “jerk” for his trouble.

To lighten the mood the author throws in some more sparing between Nikki and Thomas, most of it involving an ongoing joke about pistachios. Unfortunately it all comes off rather childish and I kept thinking that Nikki’s behavior reflected a 3rd grader more than an adult woman. Once they stop sparing and fall into bed, it doesn’t get much better. While the sex is hot stuff, by this point any sort of emotional connection is impossible because of all the childish behavior. It also doesn’t help matters that Thomas is jealously possessive to the point of being a Neanderthal.

What does work is all the stuff surrounding this less than satisfying relationship. So often in books of this nature the Domination/submission angle is played out for shock value. Black writes about the world on an intellectual level that I appreciated, and explores some of the reasons why the lifestyle is appealing – especially to professional women. And while this sort of sexual activity doesn’t always translate well in fiction, Black sure knows her way around a love scene. This isn’t your grandmother’s romantic suspense novel.

I was a little worried about the suspense angle at first, but Black keeps it all humming along and writes one heck of a climatic finish. Between the sex and the unveiling of Lucifer’s identity, it’s all pretty exciting stuff.

At the end of the day, One Dark Night is a hard book for me to judge, as a lot of it did work for me. Black can write suspense, and I found many of her characters appealing. I was burnt out long ago on psychic characters, but I wouldn’t hesitate buying a future book about Nikki’s best friend – which in this reviewer’s mind is high praise. Nikki and Thomas worked for me as people, but as a couple I never felt the necessary emotional connection to sustain the romance.

All of this is fairly faint criticism though. Black’s pacing is good, and I really admired the way she tackled the sexual aspects of the story. While the nature of the sexual content and the violence means that this book will certainly not be for everybody, One Dark Night is definitely worth a look for those who like their fiction on the spicy side.

--Wendy Crutcher

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