Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Suite 606 (anthology, book) by J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Ruth Ryan Langan, Mary Kay McComas

Since this is an anthology, I don't plan on listing read-alikes. It's just going to be summaries and commentaries.

Judging by the cover of this book, this could've been a horror anthology or perhaps a mystery anthology. Actually, it's a bit more accurate to call it a paranormal romance anthology. I picked this up because of the story by J.D. Robb - I have never read anything by the other authors. Overall, this anthology is kind of strange and uneven. Those who persevere are in for an interesting surprise, but there wasn't a single story in this anthology that I felt was outstanding.

"Ritual in Death" by J.D. Robb

Eve Dallas is at a party with her husband when, surprise surprise, a disoriented man turns up, covered in blood and holding a knife. The man, a doctor, has recently killed a woman in Suite 606 in one of Roarke's own buildings. As Eve investigates, she discovers that the man is, in his own way, a victim too, unwillingly made to take part in some kind of satanic ritual. Because the murder happened in Roarke's hotel and involved the compromising of his usually tight security, Roarke conducts his own investigation, bringing in Isis, the witch from Ceremony in Death. Eve isn't happy, but she'll take whatever information she can get if it can help her bring down the people involved in this murder.

It's not a great story, but it's got the usual "in Death" feel. Except, you know, for all the psychic stuff. Usually, Eve does more investigating than this - you might think the psychic help was intended to speed things up, since short stories have greater limitations than novels, but Isis's help was never actually used. All she did was confirm what Eve had already figured out. A bit lame, if you ask me. I had almost forgotten that Isis existed, actually, and found the "something" between her and Roarke to be somewhat annoying. By the way, these satanic killers were a bit stupid, if they could be so easily caught. Also, Eve and Roarke's sex scene in the police station shower - huh?! It's incredibly out of character for Eve, who still flinches at the thought of her coworkers catching her kissing her husband. Sex in the showers at work is edging towards the realm of sex on her office desk - true, Roarke needed some time with her, but was this really necessary? Yes, this is a romance anthology (not that you can tell from the cover), but the sex felt tacked on and, if you know anything about the characters, inappropriate.

"Love Endures" by Mary Blayney

Summer is not surprised that her husband Reggie is off somewhere, either drinking or gambling the family's money away. She is shocked, however, when Lord Stephen Bradley shows up to tell her that he was killed by thieves. She's not sure how she will cope. She has a young daughter to take care of, Reggie's debts to pay off, and less money than she tries to let on. Things only get worse when she finds out that her husband's ghost is haunting his bedroom - apparently, he can't leave until the wrongs he did while he was alive have been taken care of, because he made some kind of deal with a demon (or spirit, or angel). Summer is desperate to get him to leave, because his presence reminds her of all the ways he hurt their family - while he was alive, his charm tended to override her anger, but his charm doesn't seem to work on her the way it once did. One debt she swears she will take care of is the 150 pounds Reggie owes Stephen, which he lost in a bet years ago, a bet that Stephen would not be able to seduce Summer (or so Summer thinks, because that's what Reggie told her). Stephen knows the truth, that all he's ever wanted from Summer is her love. With the help of a magic coin and the mysterious Suite 606, the truth will come out.

This one overdid it a bit with the paranormal stuff. A ghost, a deal with a demon, a magic coin, and a mysterious Suite 606 which invites the truth to come out. Oh, come one. I loved the mood of this story at first, and was looking forward to seeing Summer and Stephen become the couple they would've been if Reggie hadn't been so selfish and greedy. As all the paranormal stuff started piling up, however, it became increasingly laughable that Summer and Stephen were meant to be together. Two people who are mean to be together shouldn't need this much magic to bring them together.

I'm glad that this wasn't longer than it was - not only would all of the Great Misunderstanding stuff have become even more unbearable, but I'm sure Kitty, Summer and Reggie's daughter, would've become hideously grating. As it was, she was hardly in the story and I still disliked her. Not much really does happen in the story, which alternates between the present, with Summer trying to deal with the aftermath of Reggie's death, and the past, how the misunderstanding came into being. Personally, I can't believe she trusted Reggie's word for so long - he's such a pathological liar, but it seems she has only caught him on a fraction of those lies over the years.

Remember how I said that the only author in this anthology I'd read anything by before was J.D. Robb? At this point in the anthology, I had the distinct impression that I was missing out because of this. This story had what I thought were weird cameos from the the author's other books - it wasn't until the final story that I found out I was mistaken. Until I discovered that, however, the "cameos" felt a bit out of place - plus, I was annoyed that the author didn't explain them.

"Cold Case" by Ruth Ryan Langan

Sam Hunter doesn't know what he wants to do with his life anymore or where he wants to be - all he knows is that he no longer wants to be a cop surrounded by all the cops who used to know his partner. Sam's partner took a bullet meant for him, and now Sam just wants to get away and heal. He decides to go to an area he hasn't seen since college, but ends up getting into a car accident during a snow storm. He finds himself stranded at a place called Storm Hill, with a beautiful woman named Mary Catherine, her 16-year old sister Anna, and Hoag, their angry, forbidding stepfather. Sam, who is usually adept at restraining his emotions, finds himself overcome by passionate feelings for Mary Catherine, feelings which she shares - it's not a comfortable situation for either of them, especially with Hoag's threatening presence so close by.

Mary Catherine says Hoag is worried that she or her sister might do the same thing their mother did, and run off with a secret lover. Mary Catherine swears to her sister that she won't run off with Sam, although Sam comes to feel that it would be best for her to leave with him, either alone or with Anna. Neither Mary Catherine nor Anna ever thought their mother would leave without them - and did she really?

This story is really predictable - I figured out what happened to their mother well before the story ended. I also figured out pretty quickly that Sam had to be dreaming, time traveling, or somehow seeing the past in the some other way. I kind of thought maybe he was meant to stop some past murders, or at least reveal the truth of those murders in the present day, but Sam does neither of those things. Instead, he meets one of Anna and Mary Catherine's descendants and falls in love with her, only pages after Mary Catherine, who he had had such passionate feelings for, dies - it makes him look a bit fickle. Also, him getting over the death of his partner was very sudden and unrealistic, like a bolt of lightning provided by the wonderful Mary Catherine. Oh, gag me with a spoon. Like J.D. Robb's story, this one felt like it would've been stronger if the author had just concentrated on writing a really good mystery and left all the romance out. I do like romance, really I do, but it is so rarely done well in short stories.

Like the previous story, this one has a strange moment that appears as though it might be a cameo of some of the author's regular characters from something else, although at least this time the "cameo" was brief enough and unremarkable enough that I didn't really feel like I was missing out on anything. At the time, I just felt it was a little odd.

"Wayward Wizard" by Mary Kay McComas

Marie takes her son Hugh to a museum, hoping desperately that she will eventually be able to re-connect with him and win back his trust. A while back, she was in an accident and was in a lot of pain while she recovered. She became addicted to painkillers and her husband eventually divorced her. It hasn't been easy, but Marie is now finally starting to put her life back together. Her ex-husband has already moved on, but she's still got a chance with Hugh.

While at the museum, both Hugh and Marie end up getting sent to a different time and place after messing around with a strange stone. They end up in the company of a wizard named Nester who had been hoping that one of them would bring the stone with them - that stone, together with the one he already possessed, would've fully augmented his power, and he could easily have sent Hugh and Marie back home. However, without the second stone, Nester is limited to two or three jumps in time and space per day, with only a little control over where they all end up. His jumps take them to the New York of Marie and Hugh's future, where they see J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas. Nester's jumps also take them to the parts of the second and third stories that I had thought were cameos, as well as to a few other times and places.

During Nester's resting periods, Marie and Nester get to know each other better and eventually become lovers, and Marie and Hugh begin to mend their relationship. The big question is, once Marie and Hugh get home, what will Marie do? Will she stay in her own time and continue to work on her relationship with her son under her ex-husband's watchful eye, or will she go with Nester, the man she has come to love, back to his own time and place?

I can't say I found the romance in this story to be very exciting - it's a little hard to have an exciting romance when the hero and heroine are constantly accompanied by the heroine's young son. The tension between Marie and Hugh was pretty interesting, though - I think I might've enjoyed reading more about the two of them slowly mending their relationship.

The completely unexpected way this story linked all the other stories together grabbed my interest, too. Unfortunately, like I said, it was completely unexpected - if I weren't the sort to force myself to finish nearly any book I start, I might've given up on this anthology before reading this story and missed the explanation for the "cameos." Plus, there was something just a little... messy about it all. Langan and, especially, Blayney both seemed very much aware of what McComas planned to do with her story - both authors' stories incorporated appearances by Marie, Hugh, and Nester. However, unless I missed it, it looks like no one told Nora Roberts (aka J.D. Robb) anything, because, despite the group's brief encounter with Eve Dallas, I don't believe they ever show up in Robb's story.

Robb appears to have written her story under the impression that Suite 606 was what would be tying the anthology together. The other three authors made weak attempts, sometimes very weak, at incorporating Suite 606 into their stories, but it seems as though the anthology would have been stronger if they had dropped Suite 606 (which, at various points in the anthology, was a satanic ritual site, a love nest that promotes truth, an interesting coincidence, and an unimportant detail) and focused on the Hugh/Marie/Nester link instead. I wonder if Robb had already written her story before this anthology was put together, and the other authors just planned things around her?

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