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REVIEW: Cover of Night by Linda Howard: second opinion

Dear Ms. Howard,

I've been reading your books since the days when you wrote for Silhouette and I don't plan on stopping. Few authors of romantic suspense deliver great chemistry between their main characters as well and as consistently as you do. There is something so satisfyingly thorough about this aspect of writing: not only do you understand women's enthusiasm for strong, large, and overwhelmingly male creatures, you also have an intuitive grasp of the resounding response men feel in return, or in any case, of what they feel for us in our dreams.

A Linda Howard hero is never going to ignore the woman he is with to watch a Redskins game, even if he is a former linebacker himself. He is simply too focused on her to ignore her for anything. Nor is the fact that his work probably involves killing people who want him dead likely to put him a bleak mood, make him sullen, or bring on a case of PTSD.

That's because a hero in one of your novels is the stuff of female fantasies, fantasies you understand and fulfill so well that I only grumble a little about my longing for just a tiny bit of human weakness in one of these guys. It's not going to happen, I tell myself, so get over it. A hero in a Linda Howard novel is always well-adjusted, always confident, always in command of himself.

Whoa! Wait a minute. Rewind. Did I really think that?

Maybe, but that was before I read Cover of Night.

Cate Nightingale runs a Bed and Breakfast in Trail Stop, Idaho. She is a widow with twin four year old boys, and although her husband died three years ago, she's been slow to get over his death. One day, a guest at Cate's B&B disappears, leaving by way of the window. Then two mobsters show up and attempt to take Cate and another Trail Stop resident named Neenah hostage.

Luckily for Cate, the town's handyman stops by to pick up her mail and she is able to signal him that she is in trouble. Cal has always been shy around Cate, prone to blushing and going quiet, so Cate is surprised when he takes command of the situation and gets the two men to leave with the missing guest’s possessions.

It doesn't take long for the villains to return with reinforcements and put the whole town of Trail Stop under siege. The mobsters believe Cate has something they need, but neither Cate nor the town’s other residents realize this when the bad guys open fire on them in the middle of the night.

Once the bullets start flying Cal surprises Cate yet again by leading others to safety and devising a put an end to the siege. He is aided by Joshua Creed, whom he served with in the military, and by Cate herself. Of course, during the mayhem Cate comes to realize that there is much more to Cal than she ever realized and yup, she begins to fall for the shy handyman.

The suspense storyline is even more prominent than the romance here, but I enjoyed it almost as much. In fact, I often find the suspense plots in your books very involving, first because they are usually not your typical serial killer plots, but something less run of the mill, and second because when your main characters are “onscreen,” so to speak, the life-and-death situations bring out their best qualities. I especially enjoy the way they often work together to accomplish their goal and survive, and in Cover of Night there's an entire town working together.

I liked both Cate and Cal. Though I agree with Jane that the development of their relationship did not get as much space as I would like, and though I feel that as a result their romance was not as complicated or emotional as some of the other romantic relationships you've written about, I was rooting for them and I thought they made an appealing couple.

I especially want to applaud you for taking a chance with Cal. Yeah, he was tough when it came to all that macho action stuff that you use to show your heroes’ protectiveness and their oh-so-sexy competence, but his initial shyness around Cate gave him the kind of vulnerability that I don't usually sense in your male protagonists; a vulnerability that can make a hero not just sexy, but also endearing.

Cover of Night wasn't a perfect reading experience for me. I felt that the introduction of so many characters upfront made the book slow to get off the ground, and the cute antics of Cate's twin sons made me impatient for the action to start. The book also contains a lot of scenes from the villains' POV. I didn't mind reading the mobsters' thoughts for the most part, but the local villain felt somewhat flat, which made me want to skim the sections in his viewpoint.

The premise of the siege depends on one villain's incompetence, and I wasn't entirely convinced that this character would bungle things that badly that quickly, without intervention from his boss. The romantic subplot about Joshua Creed and Neenah felt a little sketchy to me, and the scenes that involved one of bad guy’s love life felt out of place.

I agree with Jane’s opinion that it was less romance and more suspense with a romantic thread, but I’ll take a suspense book from you over a lot of other authors’ romances. I enjoyed reading Cover of Night, enough that most of the time the pages nearly turned themselves. It gets a B from me.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

10 Comments

  1. spyscribbler
    Sep 19, 2006 @ 21:16:31

    Charline Teglia and Tara Marie were just commenting, over at Romancing the Blog, that they admired Linda Howard’s heroines for not being ‘stupid’ and walking into danger for the sake of conflict with the hero.

    Then I pop by here, and read your review. I definitely need to read some Linda Howard!

    ReplyReply

  2. Janine
    Sep 20, 2006 @ 00:49:20

    If you’ve never read her you’re in for a treat. She has a long backlist and she doesn’t repeat herself much.

    ReplyReply

  3. Tara Marie
    Sep 20, 2006 @ 08:43:46

    …less romance and more suspense with a romantic thread…

    I’m probably one of the few romance readers that prefers this, I only need a small amount of romance in some sub-genres (suspense and paranormals). Scare me and throw in a little romance. And I love the villains POV it completely explains motivation.

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  4. Zeek
    Sep 20, 2006 @ 09:14:29

    I pimp LH whenever I can, especially her oldies. This one disappointed me because of the lack of romance BUT, as you said, I’ll take a suspense book from her over a lot of other authors’ romances too!

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  5. Janine
    Sep 20, 2006 @ 12:25:22

    Have you read Cover of Night, Tara Marie? Did you like it?

    Zeek, it may have helped that I wasn’t expecting a lot of romance in Cover of Night (I had heard that before I read it). As it turned out I was pleasantly surprised.

    ReplyReply

  6. Phyl
    Sep 20, 2006 @ 12:56:44

    It’s been a couple of months since I read CON, but it sure stuck with me for some time after reading it. Always a sign of a good read and an indicator that I’ll go back an read it again some day. I understand that for some the romance aspect was downplayed, but I’d like to use Linda Howard as an example of a writer who knows how to put a wealth of meaning into an economy of words. I’d quote a particular scene I’m thinking of, but I don’t have the book in front of me. And it’s probably not that important. It’s just that Linda Howard knows how to use words better than many other authors so her books are delight, even when they’re not her best.

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  7. Tara Marie
    Sep 20, 2006 @ 17:29:05

    Janine, I loved it, but then I think I’d love the phone book if Linda Howard wrote it, so I may be a little out there–LOL.

    I’m very particular when it comes to RS, I do prefer chills and thrills over the romance. Like just enough romance to feel comfortable with the HEA.

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  8. Janine
    Sep 20, 2006 @ 20:20:45

    Phyl — I’m not sure I would have put it the same way you did, but I think that Linda Howard can convey an intensity of emotions better than many other authors, and she does it well even in a few words. It’s one of the reasons I appreciate her novellas as much as her novels.

    Tara Marie — I don’t love everything of Howard’s but she has a much better success rate with me than many other authors.

    ReplyReply

  9. chuckie
    Aug 21, 2007 @ 22:38:40

    This is the worst book of Linda Howard that I’ve read. Thank God I only read it in e-book format.

    ReplyReply

  10. chuckie
    Aug 21, 2007 @ 22:40:44

    This is the worst book of Linda Howard that I’ve read. Thank God I only read it in e-book format. Her previous books such as Dream Man, Now You See Her, Mr. Perfect, and Dying to Please are much better.

    ReplyReply

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