Dark Interlude by Dianne Mayhew
(Arabesque/BET Books, $4.99, PG-13)
ISBN 0-7860-0594-7
"No, that's not my shade of lipstick
Or my scratch marks on your back.
Is it her that you wanna be with?
You got me involved in some talk show shhh!

As I read Dianne Mayhew's second novel, Dark Interlude, the lyrics to Shae Jones' popular song about romantic machinations came to mind. It's not surprising. The characters in Dark Interlude seem more suited for a daytime talk show panel than a romance novel. Dark Interlude is one-part Jerry Springer, one-part Agatha Christie, one-part "The Big Chill" – and not necessarily the best parts, either.

Six college friends: Percy, Eddie, Craig, Sissi, Nicole and Michelle are reunited in North Carolina for Sissi's engagement party. Sissi Adams is marrying college professor Phil Richardson. The party is one big sleepover at the big, old spooky mansion that Sissi's grandmother left her.

She had thought, in Phil, she had found the perfect man. He was intelligent and strong. He was considerate and generous. When she thought she was going to lose her grandmother's old mansion a year earlier because of back taxes, Phil offered to co-sign for a loan to stop the foreclosure on the property. But he took his generosity even further and began renovating the mansion until it was like new..."

Percy and Sissi were state-of-the-art lovers until a mega misunderstanding caused their break up. Phil had been waiting in the wings and swooped her up with all that generosity. Craig is carrying on a long-term affair with Michelle although he is engaged to Nicole. Michelle is spreading rumors that Nicole is sleeping with her cousin Donna's husband, Keith. Donna is sleeping with anything with a pulse. Two days before the party, Sissi walks in on her fiancé while he is grading papers on one of his students, er...on his desk. Eddie is a intern and his medical services soon may be needed.

Got all that?

Phil asks Sissi to go through with the engagement party to help him save face among his colleagues. He fears his career will be ruined if Sissi breaks their engagement. Out of gratitude for all Phil has done, Sissi agrees to pretend all is well. This is turning into the weekend-from-hell.

At the party, Sissi keeps up the charade and looks forward to Percy's arrival. Once he gets there, Sissi begins a series of what Percy justifiably calls "mind games" that continue for two-thirds of the novel. Phil is more than a little bit nervous about Percy's presence. However, Sissi won't reveal that her engagement is off until she can get a commitment or, at the very least, a show of interest from him. And, seeing that Sissi seems happy with Phil, Percy backs off – momentarily.

This could have been an interesting story. The elements are there: new and old secrets, musical beds, a weekend in a mansion have the possibilities for a good romantic thriller. There is a big misunderstanding/second chance premise that could have been developed.

However, the nature of Percy and Sissi's misunderstanding reveals a great deal about who they are. It's not a pretty sight. All the characters are so shallow it's hard to care about them. They are six characters in search of personal ethics. They have remained friends for so long because they are drawn together by their narcissism. One auxiliary character calls Sissi's friends "riff-raff."

And, when all is said and done, with friends like these, who needs enemies? But, there is no shortage of daytime talk shows and I suspect there are a number of readers who would appreciate a Dark Interlude.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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