has also reviewed:

If Looks Could Kill

As Heather Graham

A Magical Christmas



Never Sleep With Strangers
by Heather Graham Pozzessere
(Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-445-3; PG-13
This book is being marketed as a blend of mystery and romance, but in spite of its contemporary setting and popular mystery-weekend premise, its gothic novel origins are unmistakable. The setting is a medieval (albeit modernized) castle; the hero is the owner of said castle, the heroine has come to the castle for an innocent purpose, and people are turning up dead.

Three years ago Jon Stuart held a charity mystery event for fellow mystery writers at his Scottish castle. During this event, his beautiful, sophisticated, dissatisfied wife died in a mysterious fall from her bedroom balcony. Now Jon has invited all the same people back for a repeat function with the secret intention of discovering the truth behind Cassandra's death.

In addition, he has invited Sabrina Holloway, also a successful mystery writer, who was not at the first event but who shared a brief but memorable sexual encounter with Jon (described by Sabrina's sister as "the faster-than-speeding-bullet affair"). In spite of this fantastic sex and their deep feelings for each other, Sabrina had fled into the night (does this ring any gothic novel bells?), and both had wed others with disastrous results. Sabrina's ex-husband, the slimy two-timing Brett who wants her back, is also one of the guests.

Each of the guests is given a fictional persona to portray in a mystery story line with only Jon's capable secretary knowing the secret of the whodunit. In addition, a wax museum display featuring famous murders is on view in the dungeon; the artist has sculpted wax figures using guests' faces for some of the victims and perpetrators.

Before the pretend mystery can get underway, mysterious events begin to occur and the weather forecast is ominous. What's the reaction of Jon's guests to this menacing atmosphere? "Gin and tonic, please."

This story has a number of faults and most of them have to do with the characters.

First of all, there're too many of them. Not only are there a gaggle of mystery writers assembled, each of them has a second identity. I could have used a program: I found it impossible to keep some of the secondary characters separate without referring back to the initial introductory scene. Only Jon, Sabrina, and Brett were distinguishable from the others in the crowd.

By and large, they're not very nice people. If you've always suspected that the rich and famous aren't as nice as me and thee, this will confirm your worst suspicions. I would imagine that it's easier for a writer to bump off nasty characters than the nice ones. This crew provides plenty of candidates for a swift demise.

And their character motivation is highly suspect.

These are supposedly intelligent, literate people, but they display the classic symptoms of the gothic heroine. A gunshot has been fired; a bullet is discovered; the winter weather is worsening. Do the guests say, "Hey! I recognize this plot! I'm taking the next train outta here?" No, they all say they want to stay because they're having too much fun. Excuse me, but where's the fun? They're all standing around trashing the reputation of their host's deceased wife, casting snide aspersions on each other, and viewing the grisly wax figures in the dungeon. Even our heroine Sabrina who's being subjected to some of the worst sexual harassment on record by her slimeball ex-husband (it escapes me why she ever would have married this creep) doesn't have the good sense to pull out. When the dead bodies started piling up, my reaction was that they had it coming.

To add to the confusion, interspersed with the main plot line are segments of threatening dialogue whereby the secret villain's thoughts and intentions can ratchet up the spooky atmosphere.

Put it all together: wax museum in dungeon, approaching winter storm, evil villain with fiendish agenda. What're the odds our lovely innocent heroine's going to be in dire peril? Slipping down to the dungeon alone?

I found the basic premise for the plot to be too unrealistic to accept and the characters too unsympathetic to care about. Perhaps some readers might enjoy this hybrid of mystery, romance, and gothic elements blended with Ms. Pozzessere's signature style (mirrored beginning and ending scenes). For me, slogging through this morass of characters on characters was no pleasant task. Even though the hero and heroine are likable, their romance is greatly overshadowed by all that's going on around them.

In fact, it's a misnomer to call this a romance at all. This is a gothic mystery in modern-day clothing. If that appeals, books by Mary Stewart or Phyllis Whitney would be a better choice than this.

--Lesley Dunlap

@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home