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.