Dark Angel by Cassandra Collins
(Love Spell, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52414-7
I simply could not get into this book.

Between the author's frequent and unhumorous attempts at humor, the long, dry, and drawn out narrative, the unlikely behavior of the characters, the absurdity of the plot, and the fact that the hero and heroine engage in very little meaningful interaction throughout the majority of the read, Dark Angel doesn't make the grade.

Scarlett Ray only has one thing left in the world and that one thing is the diner her now deceased mother willed to her. Scarlett loves the diner more than life itself and will do anything to hold onto it, including go up against Kenneth Chandler, a self-serving man determined to buy her out at all costs. Since Scarlett refuses to sell the diner to him, Chandler decides that the best way to achieve his goals is to remove Scarlett from the equation altogether and murder her. (Over a diner?!)

Jake Miscusi is sort of an angel and sort of not. He died back in the 1950s and now lives in purgatory, but is able to assume human form whenever his destiny becomes tied up with another person's. (Don't ask me to further expound upon that statement because it's as murky as mud soup to me, too.)

Somehow Jake's destiny becomes tied up with Scarlett's and he saves her after she's shot down by one of Chandler's thugs. Now Jake must figure out why their destinies have interwoven while shielding his heart from the lure of falling in love with Scarlett in the process.

Where exactly does one begin a critique when their list of complaints about the book in question is longer than the 95 Theses Martin Luther nailed to the Wittenberg door? The plot itself begs for major reformation. Asking readers to swallow a story line that centers on murdering someone over a godforsaken diner in a bad neighborhood is asking a wee bit much. Over top secret information - okay. Over a bid for the presidency - okay. (And I'm sure my fellow Floridians and I could swallow such a plot device more readily than most.) But over a diner? No way. Anything less than a condo in the Poconos and I'm not buying it.

Next on the list is the fact that the heroine Scarlett is only one minor step up from being hopelessly moronic. First of all, if a man wanted my diner enough to kill me over it, he could have the damn thing. There are things in this life worth dying over and things that there aren't. In my estimation, this situation falls under the latter heading.

Aside from her stubbornness over holding onto mother's diner under the threat of death, Scarlett shows her lack of intellect in other ways as well, namely in not believing that Jake is more than a figment of her imagination even after countless encounters with him. She saw him appear under a lamppost more times than I can count. He jumped in front of an oncoming car to save her life and walked away unscathed. He hoisted Scarlett up off of the ground and took her for a ride above the city like Superman did for Lois Lane. Good grief, the man even had electricity jolting out of his fingertips. But did Scarlett believe he was real? Nope. I think I would have started believing sometime during my flight in midair. The electricity thing would have been the clincher.

There are a few other aspects of Dark Angel that contribute to its one heart rating, but the most fundamental one is the lack of interaction between the hero and heroine. For the first half of the novel, most of the narrative concerns Scarlett and her clientele in the diner. Worse yet, as secondary characters go, Scarlett's clientele isn't all that interesting to get to know. It's like a hundred pages of reading about your grandfather recounting that three mile schlep in the snow that he had to make to school every day when he was a boy. Whenever my grandfather starts telling that story, my grandmother hits him over the head with a rolled up newspaper. Grandma would have a field day in Scarlett's diner.

This leads into the biggest gripe of them all: rather than interspersing all of those dull clientele scenes with a few hot and heavy exchanges between the protagonists, the lead characters rarely interact. And when they do, Jake's body inevitably disperses and vanishes into the wind, drawing the scene short. In reality, men do this enough. In a fictional romantic hero, I like a little staying power.

--Tina Engler

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