Night’s Edge is a collection of three novellas: Dancer in the Dark by Charlaine Harris, Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne, and Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly. All three are paranormal, suspense romances, with an emphasis on paranormal suspense. If you’re wondering what I mean by novella, each story is about one hundred paperback pages long. Night’s Edge is well-themed reading for the spooky month of October.
Dancer in the Dark connects with Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series in that it features a pair of characters who appear on the sidelines of some of the Sookie novels. Layla Rue is a dancer looking for a higher paying job to cover her university expenses. The job she’s auditioning for would require performing with a vampire. At the end of the performance, the vampire would bite her. Sean O’Rourke, an older vampire known for his standoffish nature, becomes her dance partner and quickly realizes that there is something Layla is afraid of–and it isn’t him. As Layla’s past catches up with her, she discovers the person she trusts the most is a vampire.
Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne features Kiley Brigham, who has just bought a house that seems to be haunted. Since Kiley is renowned for her journalism work of denouncing paranormal charlatans, she initially believes someone is attempting revenge for one of her features, but the more it seems that her house might genuinely be spooked and dangerous, the more likely it becomes that Kiley will have to ask Jack McCain, the local psychic she’s been targeting for her next exposé, to come to her house and do some ghost busting. Jack believes helping Kiley out would get him off her radar; the complication is that if her house truly is haunted then Kiley could finally get the evidence she’s been looking for that Jack is absolutely the fake she’s accused him of being.
Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly revolves around Maddie Laveau, a belly dancer and tarot reader, and the Glendower Building in New York City where she rents space to teach and where her young roommate, Tessa, practices ballet. When Tessa disappears one night from the dance studio, Maddie eventually finds her deeper in the building–along with the hostile voice of a man and later the appearance of Phil, a musician who is living in the practice space. As she struggles to pinpoint the danger, Maddie worries about Tessa and wonders whether Phil is a threat or a friend. Hambly cleverly builds the mystery so that the reader is guessing whether the story will reveal itself to be of a haunting or of a predatory supernatural creature. I won’t spoil it here.
I have long enjoyed the works of Harris and Hambly. This is the first story I’ve read by Shayne. Despite several clear exceptions, I’m not really a fan of the short story, so I wasn’t promptly taken by the notion of novellas, but my enjoyment of Hambly and Harris’s work in the past was enough for me to take this book home without much more thought than that. The plot of each of the stories leant itself well to the novella length.
Harris’s story could easily have been fleshed out into a novel filled with more interactions of the mysterious and romantic type as Layla and Sean built their understanding of each other, and Layla’s past became clear. The story felt quite a bit like Harris’ early book A Secret Rage, but in the style we’ve come to expect from her recent work. Despite being a dancer in poor circumstances, Layla comes across very much as a soft southern belle, and Dancer in the Dark leans more towards a gentle love story than a scintillating mystery, which is why I could easily see the story expanded to build it up more.
Her Best Enemy by Maggie Shayne felt just the right length. Kiley’s interactions with Jack smacked of hard-boiled crime fiction dialogue. While they were both more comfortable insulting each other than anything else, they were also very attracted to each other’s ideal bodies. I admit to wanting to grin and roll my eyes at the same time on a couple occasions. Their antics with each other worked to cancel out the horror elements, such as a message written in human blood on the bathroom mirror. Overall, this story felt the most like a traditional romance, albeit with horror and suspense aspects.
Someone Else’s Shadow by Barbara Hambly was my favorite of the trio. The characters felt the most real to me. Their background information served to add depth to their choices and reactions as well as keep the reader’s active mind wondering which, if any, of the background elements might tie into the current mystery. Another layer was added by the theme of people or situations being misunderstood or falling outside of popular expectations. The prolonged uncertainty behind the supernatural aspects of the story also created more possibility for genuine spookiness. Hambly writes a good story.
I recommend Night’s Edge for October reading.