Silent Night by J.D. Robb, Susan Plunkett, Dee Holmes & Claire Cross
(Jove, $6,99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-515-12385-4
****
I guess I recommend this anthology. I mean, it does have the next installment of J.D. Robb's saga of Eve and Roark. And the other three novellas are certainly the work of talented authors. But I must admit to a bit of puzzlement. Isn't it generally the case that the stories in an anthology have a common theme or thread? Aren't Christmas anthologies in particular supposed to create a warm and fuzzy feeling of peace on earth and all that stuff?

If you are expecting Silent Night to conform to these expectations, be aware that such is not the case. Indeed, the book has a split personality. The first two stories are pleasant, even in the case of Cross's, whimsical holiday tales. The last two, while partaking of a holiday setting, are certainly not cheer-filled! But if variety is your spice of life, then you might well enjoy this anthology.

I began by reading J.D. Robb's "Midnight in Death," even though it is the last story in the book. I imagine many other readers will follow my example. The novella begins only days after Eve's traumatic last case, chronicled in Holiday in Death. One would think that the lieutenant would be due some time off to recuperate, but when Judge Harold Wainger's nude and mutilated body turns up on the ice in Rockefeller Center, Eve knows that she has to take this case because she knows who the killer is. Psychopath/ sociopath David Palmer. Four years earlier, Eve had arrested him and Judge Wainger had sentenced him to life imprisonment. But Palmer had broken out of jail, and now he had a list of people who would pay: the judge, the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorney, the psychiatrist and, of course, the arresting officer.

"Midnight in Death" thus lacks the mystery element of Robb's other "In Death" books. The plot centers on how many victims Palmer take out in what horrible fashion before his final confrontation with Eve.

I am not sure that the novella format works especially well for the Eve/Roark saga. I don't think I am alone in enjoying the books as much for the relationship between the two and Robb's incredibly realistic creation of an all too possible future world as for the mystery. The short form does not allow for as much of the interpersonal relations or setting descriptions that make the Robb books so compelling. Despite these caveats, "Midnight in Death" did keep my interest, although Robb's gruesome descriptions of the victims' fate are not for the faint of heart. And they were certainly not what I expect in a Christmas anthology!

Since I assumed that all the stories in Silent Night were of a type, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Claire Cross's contribution was a lighthearted tale of one of Santa's elves who is mechanically challenged. Holly Berry lives at the North Pole and like all other elves, works in Santa's workshop making toys for all those good little girls and boys. Unfortunately, Holly makes a mess whenever she comes into contact with a machine.

Brought before Mr. C and Mrs. C after her latest disaster, Holly is worried that she will be banished from the North Pole. But the Clauses give her a chance to redeem herself. Young Natalie Sinclair has sent a letter to Santa asking for a mommy for Christmas and all Holly has to do is to go Toronto and arrange for Natalie's wish to come true.

Two Christmases before, Natalie's parents had been killed in a house fire and she is being raised by her uncle Drew. Drew is interviewing for a new nanny and has been unhappy with all the candidates until Miss Holly Berry arrives on his doorstep. Holly's introduction to the world of human beings is handled with a nice wit and her discovery of very un-elf-like feelings for Drew make a nice story.

Dee Holmes' provides a second chance at love story as her contribution to the anthology, "The Unexpected Gift." Sabrina McKay and her son Josh are busy getting ready for Christmas, their first since Sabina's divorce from her neglectful and cheating spouse, when Josh announces that there is a dead man in their yard. The man is not dead, just passed out and he is no stranger to Sabrina.

Six years earlier she had chosen to marry Robert Townshend even though she and Zach had been lovers. Zach had refused to say he loved her or to settle down and she had bowed to family pressure to marry the mayor's son rather than live with the wild kid from the wrong side of town. Zach had gone on to a career as a new photographer. What on earth was he doing in her front yard? And what was she to make of the feelings, long buried, that he caused.

Zach, at a crossroads in his life, doesn't quite know how he got to Rutland and Sabrina, and, though he tries to leave, keeps getting drawn back. Sabrina isn't about to let him ride out of her life a second time. As I said, a nice second chance at love story.

Susan Plunkett's novella, "Christmas Promises" is more like the Robb story, dealing as it does with domestic violence, the long lasting trauma of rape, and the seamy side of life.

Four years earlier Marne York had broken off her engagement with Jake Rimsa without any explanation. They had known each other since they were teenagers and when she was seventeen and he was twenty, they had promised to love each other forever. Now Jake has come to drive Marne to a family Christmas celebration. But before they can leave, Marne gets a phone call that has her rushing to County Hospital where she finds Angela Tomari, beaten within an inch of her life. Angela begs Marne to look for her daughter who had fled when her father had attacked her mother. She also warns Marne that Julius plans to kill the woman he blames for helping his wife escape from his clutches.

So Marne and Jake set out through the worst part of town to look for Clarissa and Jake discovers that the happy, upper class woman he had known has become a familiar figure on the streets he tried so hard to escape. And he wants to know what changed her and why she left him. As they work together, the barriers weaken and Marne tells Jake her frightening story. He has to find a way to convince her that the promises they made that long-ago Christmas still matter, as well as protecting her from a killer. I enjoyed the Plunkett story and actually wished it was the basis for a novel not a novella. But cheery and happy? I don't think so!

I guess you can tell from the above descriptions that this anthology is a strange mix for a Christmas release. I should have known; how often do we see black covers on holiday books?

--Jean Mason


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