Everything in Its Time

After Twilight by Dee Davis
(Ivy, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-8041-1966-X
I really wanted to like Dee Davis' sophomore effort - I'm always happy to find a new contemporary romance author - but After Twilight failed to satisfy. A passive heroine and an uninspired setting were the main causes for my disappointment.

Kacy Macgrath lives in seclusion in a small Irish town. Two years ago, her husband Alex died after a bitter argument at their Long Island home. After a whirlwind courtship, Kacy realized that Alex didn't love her, but made one last attempt to save their doomed relationship. Alex stormed out of the house and was caught in a hurricane's tidal wave. Kacy fled the country, all the way to the cottage conveniently left to her by her Irish grandmother.

Braedon Roche, millionaire art dealer, has spent two years trying to track down the widow of the man whose forgeries almost ruined his business. But when he finds Kacy, he falls madly in love with her delicate beauty, deciding that she is too wonderful and innocent to have been involved in Alex's shady dealings. Of course, he can't tell Kacy the truth, even when it becomes apparent that someone else is looking for her - someone with much less benign intent. Alex's twin brother Max has just been released from jail, and he wants revenge on the woman he believes murdered Alex.

After Twilight makes the feminist in me recoil, as the all-powerful hero manipulates the heroine, rescues her, and then pats her patronizingly on the head when she manages a token display of strength. Kacy is a passive victim of the men in the story. After chastising herself for marrying Alex despite knowing nothing about him, she makes the same mistake with Braedon, falling in love with him and taking his word that he is a "business mogul." Braedon hides the truth of his mission from her until they have already made love. When Kacy learns the truth, she maintains her anger just long enough to put herself in danger so Braedon can save her again. Then she winds up in the sadistic clutches of the real villain for 20 pages, until her white knight rides to the rescue one more time.

Okay, in the end Kacy does have one whopper of a chance to show her mettle, and she does finally assert herself. But it is too late for her to be considered a strong heroine.

The Irish setting doesn't add much to the story. In fact, it made me appreciate the strength of Nora Roberts' two Irish trilogies and her innate feel for the country's heritage and language. Davis throws a few characters named Fin and Paddy into the story, adding a few "'Tis's" here and there, but those superficial trappings aren't enough to make the reader feel she is in County Clare.

There are redeeming qualities to After Twilight that prevent it from being a one-heart read. Despite the weaknesses, the book is hard to put down and the plot moves quickly. One character rises above the stock hero/villain dichotomy and displays some sorely welcome complexity. And I give Dee Davis credit for creating an unusual first love scene; Braedon must have done some Kama Sutra reading in his spare time, because he's not your typical "Missionary Man."

The novel's back cover describes Kacy as a "fragile widow," and for once you can believe the blurb. If you don't mind a romantic suspense novel featuring a 21st-century damsel-in-distress, you might appreciate After Twilight. If you need a stronger heroine, consider yourself warned.

--Susan Scribner

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