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REVIEW: Nightfall by Anne Stuart

Dear Anne Stuart:

You have been one of my autobuy authors from the moment I discovered you in the early 2000s, and no one writes bad boy heroes like you do. In today’s era of alpha billionaires, Motorcycle Club anti-heroes, and New Adult dudebros who wreck everything around them, I wondered how your dangerous men from an earlier era would hold up. When I saw that one of my favorite Romantic Suspense novels ever, Nightfall, was available in ebook form, I had to revisit it. Does the book hold up after 20 years? And is Richard Tiernan still the epitome of sexy/dangerous? The answer to both questions is: oh yes, and how.

nightfall anne stuartWhen the story begins, Richard Tiernan has been convicted of the grisly murder of his wife and has been released pending appeal after famous author Sean O’Rourke posts his million-dollar bail. Tiernan holes up with O’Rourke in the latter’s Park Avenue apartment, where O’Rourke plans to write a novel about Tiernan and the killing. Meanwhile, Tiernan’s young children have disappeared and he is suspected in their deaths.

Cassidy Roarke, Sean’s editor daughter, comes up to New York from her home in Baltimore after receiving a cryptic message from him and discovers that Sean wants her to help with the manuscript. She recoils at the idea of participating but can’t say no to her brilliant father, especially since she suspects there is more going on with him than just the desire to complete the novel he says will be the crowning achievement of his career.

Cassidy is both drawn to and repelled by Tiernan; she has no reason to doubt the judgement against him and he doesn’t do anything to persuade her otherwise. Tiernan is clearly attracted to her and Sean seems to be egging him on. The result is a type of cat-and-mouse game in which Cassidy is not exactly the mouse (because she’s quite clear-headed and relatively good at taking care of herself), but she does feel a bit like an insect on a pin. Tiernan is constantly studying her and engaging with her (mostly with Sean’s complete and somewhat baffling approval), and Cassidy soon finds herself enmeshed in Tiernan and Sean’s machinations.

Sean was in the midst of some high-flown fantasy, staring out the window at the New York skyline. Tiernan was sitting in the huge green leather chair that had been in Sean’s office since the beginning of time.

Cass remembered when she was small, curling up in the warm leather arms of that chair, sleeping. It had been her favorite place in the world. Tiernan didn’t turn, but she knew perfectly well he knew she was there. He seemed to have a sixth sense.

She wanted to order him out of her chair. Instead she simply stood in the doorway and cleared her throat.

Sean whirled around, an accusing expression on his florid face. “About time you woke from your beauty slumber, Cassie,” he said. “You never used to be such a slothful creature. We have work to do, and time’s a wasting.”

“Is it?” She carefully avoided Tiernan’s gaze. He was dressed in jeans and a cotton sweater against the cool morning air. She was wearing the same thing. He had a mug of black coffee in his hand. She drank hers black as well.

“You’re the one who’s so determined to get back to Baltimore, though why any sane person would choose to live in Baltimore when they have the option of New York is beyond me,” Sean declaimed. “We’re planning on changing your mind, aren’t we, Richard? Make it impossible for you to leave.”

“Impossible,” Richard echoed.

She couldn’t help it, she threw him a wary glance as she moved to her father’s littered desk. He met the gaze blandly enough, but she wasn’t so gullible she didn’t recognize the challenge. The threat.

“I have a job,” she said mildly, glancing at one stack of papers that looked like official court transcripts.

“You could take a leave of absence.”

“I could. I don’t want to. I have plans, things I want to do with my life.”

“Richard doesn’t.”

I can’t give away much more of the plot without spoiling the reading experience. Stuart does a terrific job of creating a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces slowly come together until you suddenly see the picture you’ve been working on. Every character in the story has a purpose, and even the minor characters are well drawn. I particularly appreciated Cassidy’s relationship with Sean’s current wife, Mabry. Unlike so many fictional stepmothers, Mabry, who is a gorgeous, thin, platinum-haired ex-model, has an excellent relationship with Cassidy. The two women don’t compete; they talk to each other, and they are connected by their common love for Sean and their ability to see him clearly. Cassidy’s mother, who appears late in the story, is far more of a caricature than Mabry, but even she is a recognizable type.

Richard Tiernan is the anti-hero whom every author writing such a character hopes to produce. He is genuinely frightening and genuinely sexy. As Cassidy gets to know him better he reveals more sides to himself and more honorable attributes, but he never loses that aura of danger. Richard was a college professor before the murder, and Stuart does a terrific job of making me believe that a person in an unexciting, unheroic occupation can have psychological depths we never imagine (and they may never explore). This is definitely a romance, and there is definitely an HEA, but Richard never, ever loses his edge.

In Stuart’s novels, bad boys aren’t always paired up with heroines who stand up to them, or who feel like true partners. Some of them verge on TSTL, while others seem to walk right across that line and take up residence. Cassidy, thankfully, doesn’t go there. She’s spent her entire life dealing with narcissistic, emotionally unavailable people, and she’s good at carving out a space for herself and a life that doesn’t kowtow to them practically or emotionally.

As a result, when Cassidy and Richard finally get together, the sparks really fly. I’d forgotten how sexy a sex scene can be. This is not a case of Tab A into Slot B. The language can get a little lush, but it suits the characters’ temperaments and relationship. And every scene has meaning for the story.

The suspense plot is top-notch. There are clues scattered throughout the story, and since this last reread was my third or fourth time through the novel, I could see the trail. But when I read it for the first time I was so engrossed in trying to figure out Richard Tiernan that I almost didn’t pay attention. I don’t mean to suggest that the mystery is grafted on, not at all, this is a suspense thriller down to its bones. It’s just that the Sean-Richard-Cassidy relationship is so intriguing that I almost didn’t care about whether Richard did it and if he didn’t, who did.

There are books that grab you and don’t let go when you read them, but they don’t wind up being unable to stand the test of time. This is not one of those books. As an inveterate rereader, I have no doubt that I’ll read Nightfall again one day, and when I do, I’ll enjoy it yet again and probably find something I missed before. Grade: A

~ Sunita

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Sunita has been reading romances almost as long as she has been reading. Her favorite genres these days are contemporary, category, and novels with romantic elements. She also reads SFF, mysteries, historical fiction, literary fiction, and the backs of cereal boxes. As of January 2015, all the books she reviews at Dear Author are from: (1) her massive TBR, (2) borrowed from the library, (3) received as gifts from friends/family, or (4) purchased with her own funds.


  1. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 08:27:41

    You’ve really got me interested in this one. And I’m wondering if you’re going to be giving your professor colleagues the side-eye from now on, trying to plumb their hidden depths.

  2. LeeF
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 09:18:04

    During Anne Staurt’s 40 Days an Author celebration, I bought up quite a few of her classic backlist, then had a glomfest/readathon. This is one that is memorable from her older non-series RS. I have always enjoyed her way with words not to mention the hot sex scene. Whew! I notice that several of these re-released with a new cover classics are selling for $2.99.

  3. Allison
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 09:39:37

    Wow. That caught my attention too. I’ve only read a few Stuart books (including the Ice series). Too many bad boy books leave me cold, but she does know how to write that stereotype. I will look this up, as it sounds intriguing.

  4. Willaful
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 12:07:53

    Great review, Sunita. I love this one too, for all the reasons you mention.

  5. Readsalot81
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 12:11:37

    I got this on sale some months back and after finishing the book, I picked up a lot more RS from her. She does it very, very well. The hero does have an edge to him, but he’s not so irredeemable that you’d find him unworthy of the heroine. As far as other aspects of the plot, well – yes, it’s predictable – but the relationship between Richard and Cassidy was the high point for me.

  6. Shaheen
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 13:25:38

    I wish I had read the book you were reviewing, Sunita – it sounded so intriguing that I tried it straight away. Unfortunately the Nightfall I read was infuriating and creepy, and not in a good way.

    For me Cassie’s strength was definitely a case of all tell and no show. Everyone was constantly saying how strong she was, but really she bent like a willow. As soon as anyone told her to do something, or even obviously manipulated her to do something, she did it, even as she knew how stupid she was being.

    Richard, quite frankly, is nutsoid. His overall motivations make some minute amount of sense, but his reasons behind his treatment of Cassie make no sense at all. I would think that his incarceration has made him lose his marbles, but it is clear that he was a manipulative s.o.b. since childhood. Towards the end of the book he gets mad at Cassie for believing something he says and then manages to blame her for the danger that comes from his not having told her the truth, because apparently she should just have been able to divine the truth from thin air.

    Her relationship with the stepmother was supposedly friendly, but she (the step) was one of the main people manipulating her. It didn’t help that there was a great deal of repetition in their interactions.
    Cassie, “Do you think he did it,” Step: “I didn’t say that,” Cassie, “So you think he didn’t do it,” Step, “I didn’t say that either.” Cassie, {thought bubble} Oh well Step is a great judge of character so I will maybe trust him.
    This scene happens at least twice, possibly three times. Once was enough, especially since it turns out Step wasn’t a particularly great judge of character after all – either regarding Richard, about whom she never really makes up her mind, or about another major character, whose evilness she completely fails to recognize.

    I probably should have stopped reading this book once I read the description of the heroine’s bedroom, as having been decorated in Gothic style. This was a major clue as to the Gothic nature of the book, and I abhor Gothics. Unfortunately by that time I really wanted to figure out what Richard was up to. When I did my mental dialog consisted of “Really? That was your plan?”

    Sorry for the rant, which is probably incomprehensible, as I tried to avoid spoilers, but this book really annoyed me. Definitely a case of the review being so much more to my taste than the actual book reviewed.

  7. Lada
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 14:04:01

    Enjoyed your review, Sunita! Stuart is very hit or miss for me but Nightfall was one of my favorite of hers because it was the first really dark anti-hero I bought into. That’s not my favorite type of character and I’m not sure a reread would stand up for me the way it has for you but this book was memorable. I always believed Stuart tried to bring that same dark hero into her Ice series and while it was popular with many, it never really worked for me again. I hope more new readers of Stuart like @Readsalot81: and @Shaheen: post their reactions if they read it for the first time. So fascinating how we relate so differently to books!

  8. Darlynne
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 14:39:21

    “Romantic suspense” often seems to be sleight-of-hand for “woman in jeopardy.” Not saying that’s true or accurate, just that my experience of reading such books trends that way. Your review certainly makes a valid argument for trying NIGHTFALL, however, so I may have to do so. Thanks.

  9. Sunita
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 14:53:19

    @Jayne: *shudder* I already know too much about some of my colleagues, including ones that are thankfully former colleagues! But yes, it is entirely believable.

    @LeeF: Yes, now I really want to reread Ritual Sins. I’ve only read it once and all I remember is that it gave new meaning to the term Over The Top.

    @Allison: Let us know if it works for you!

  10. Sunita
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 14:58:00

    @Willaful: Thanks! It’s nice to know this is one of our Twinsies books.

    @Readsalot81: One of the things I really like about this book is that it’s as much about Sean and Cassidy in some ways as it is about Richard and Cassidy, and I feel as if the former informs the latter relationship. The fact that Cassidy has managed to deal with Sean gives me more confidence that she can handle Richard.

    @Shaheen: No, no, don’t apologize, you did a great job of avoiding spoilers and getting your points across. I’m so glad you commented. This is definitely a Gothic, which I should have highlighted, so thank you for that.

    I can totally see where you’re coming from. I see Step as being focused on Sean and therefore read her ambiguity through that lens. And I’m probably giving Cassidy more credit because I can’t help but compare her to other Stuart heroines, some of whom make my head explode. And I do agree Richard is nutsoid for the most part, I just felt that it was circumstance as much as personality. But I could also be giving him way too much credit, because I totally fell for him.

  11. Shaheen
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 14:58:04


    I wanted to like it, I really did. And I was definitely gripped in the story and emotionally involved. I was deeply frustrated and angry on the heroine’s behalf, especially at her father and stepmother. So clearly the book is skillfully written and suspenseful… I just didn’t appreciate what the author did with her skills.

  12. Sunita
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 15:03:48

    @Lada: I agree, I love hearing how others react, whether positively or negatively. Everything Shaheen says is a valid reading of the book.

    @Darlynne: It is definitely a women in jeopardy story, but it is not *only* a women in jeopardy, if that makes sense, and I agree with you that a lot of RS shortcuts to that. I think this doesn’t, but that’s not going to be everyone’s reading of it.

    @Shaheen: I think that Sean is basically a narcissistic charmer and a horrible father. He’s fascinating and repulsive at the same time. I don’t think we’re supposed to like him, just acknowledge his charisma. I think that the text’s way of excusing/explaining his behavior is a mistake, actually; he’d be like that regardless.

  13. Shaheen
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 15:09:06

    @Sunita: I agree with your earlier comment that this book is almost as much about Sean/Cassidy as it is Richard/Cassidy, and I think that’s where it really fell down for me. There was no real closure on that part of the story. All the cracks in the book about virgin sacrifice aren’t far off the mark. I think the ending is supposed to show that Sean knew all along that Cassidy isn’t in much danger, but in that case the way he treats his other daughter is even worse. The reason I disliked step was that I felt like she had some idea of what Sean was using Cassidy for, didn’t really approve, but was going to manipulate Cassidy towards it anyway.

  14. Susan
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 16:42:25

    I got this on sale recently so I’ll probably read it. . .eventually. I was actually surprised I hadn’t already read it since I glommed Stuart for awhile–until I got fed up with her dickwad heroes. The last classic Stuart I read had the heroine’s family and the H being so OTT awful to her that I wanted her to run away and never have anything to do with any of them ever again. Sounds like this one may hit some of my buttons, too. But, as I said, I’ll probably read it since I just can’t seem to quit Stuart.

  15. Keishon
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 18:08:11

    Loved this one when I first read it, years ago, too. However, this one and AGAINST THE WIND are the only two Anne Stuart novels I’ve really enjoyed. Hated INTO THE FIRE, her other contemporary r/s.

  16. Ducky
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 19:22:06

    This one and RITUAL SINS are definitely two of the crazy ones of AS’s back list. I enjoyed them both very much. It’s true that Richard is genuinely scary and the heroine’s father is a piece of work.

  17. Kaetrin
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 23:14:45

    Ooh, I’ve not read very many of Anne Stuart’s older books. I haven’t read many of her books at all actually but I adored Ruthless a couple years ago. I think I might have to pick this one up. But an A grade from Sunita always gets my attention and if it has a HEA (which this one does) I’m generally game.

  18. SonomaLass
    Jun 16, 2014 @ 23:53:54

    Okay, I’m going to read it. I’ve tried one other book by her (Black Ice, I think), and I just couldn’t handle it. I’m an RS wimp, and not particularly tolerant of bad “heroes.” But you’ve got me intrigued, and I am always inclined to read college professor main characters.


  19. Julie
    Jun 17, 2014 @ 12:31:40

    Bought it. Oh Amazon one-click, you are my co-dependent enabler.

  20. VoraciousReader
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 20:56:50

    I just read this at your recommendation. Didn’t work for me for many, many reasons. Here are just three. One, lots of repetition within scenes and across scenes. Two, motives of two main characters highly implausible (even by Romance standards). Three, absolutely no clear plotting/development to show why Heroine falls for Hero. I will say I kept reading until the end just because I couldn’t imagine how author would reshape the H into a good guy. But, really, eh.

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