Tuesday, February 26, 2008

So Bad I Couldn’t Put It Down…..

Shadow Dance

by Julie Garwood

According to the cover of Shadow Dance, Julie Garwood is a “#1 New York Times Bestselling Author.”
What I’d like to know is – why?
Granted, Shadow Dance is the first and only Garwood novel I have ever read, but it’s certainly not inspiring me to ever pick up another. The basic premise is that heroine Jordan Buchanan, a high tech entrepreneur who has just sold her start-up computer company for zillions, is at loose ends. Jordan, who has always been the stereotypical smart, organized, well-behaved good girl, is busy being a smart, organized, well-behaved bridesmaid at her best friend’s wedding when a Mysterious Stranger shows up. The Mysterious Stranger, one Professor Horace McKenna, is crashing the wedding in the hopes of talking to Jordan’s sister Isabel about some family history. He has been corresponding with Isabel about the centuries long McKenna-Buchanan family feud, which involves much bloodshed and a lost treasure, and wants to go over some of the finer points of his research. Why he needed to travel half way across the country to do it is never explained (though I admit I might have missed it since I spent so much of this book rolling my eyes.) His visit does give him the opportunity to explain a great deal of family history to Jordan, in spite of the fact that she is one of the evil Buchanans. He goes on at length about the various awful things the Buchanans have done to the McKennas over the centuries. Great length. Page after page. It’s riveting. Really.
So after listening to the professor rave, Jordan decides he is a bit of a crank and that his version of history is definitely skewed. In spite of this, she decides she needs to do some research of her own to prove him wrong. Because, as we all know, arguing with crazy people is so productive. She then compounds one incredibly stupid decision with another by deciding she is going to go to Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas to review Professor McKenna’s notes. What prompts this is the fact that her brother’s gorgeous friend Noah teases her about being boring. Noah, of course, is the hero, and he is actually pretty likeable. It’s too bad that he completely disappears for nearly a hundred pages, especially since he takes Jordan so much less seriously than she takes herself. He goes back to doing his FBI thing and charming legions of women, while Jordan goes off to Texas. Unfortunately, we go with her. We then have the pleasure of watching her do more really stupid things while meeting an entire cast of Southern stereotypes. There’s the Waitress-with-a-Heart-of-Gold, the Helpful-Young-Secretary, and the Kindly-Lady-Who-Runs-the-Inn. Yessirreebob, all of them are such stock characters that you can bet the farm these gals are wearin’ blue eye shadow and have a bad case of Texas Big Hair! The men are even worse, running the gamut from "Aw-shucks-ma’am" good guys to Really Revolting Redneck. Please. Finally, Jordan finds a body in the trunk of her car, Noah comes to her rescue, and the action picks up a bit. This makes the second half of the book marginally less painful than the first. More bodies are found, nefarious plots are revealed, Jordan realizes she is actually in love with Noah, and decides never to let him know, and after a few more ridiculous plot twists, Noah decides he is in love with Jordan. Eventually, they declare their undying devotion and live happily ever after.
The problems with this book are legion. Jordan is supposed to be some kind of computer genius and shrewd business woman, and yet she makes bad decision after bad decision. The character is just too inconsistent to make any kind of sense. Noah is a fairly straightforward charming alpha male, but the fact that he falls for Jordan because she acts like such a spunky gal is a bit of a stretch. There is really not much action until a third of the way through the book, and the lack of suspense is glaring. What should be a slow building of tension as the bodies pile up is more series of action scenes glued together by splotches of local color. We are occasionally given glimpses of the nameless “master criminal” behind all the murders, but instead of creating a sense of lurking menace they just seem as though they are stuck in to explain a few things so that the ending won’t seem so contrived. There is a whole lot of explaining in a plot that requires action. The “show, don’t tell” mantra of romantic suspense writing has been completely ignored.
Overall, if I hadn’t been planning to write this up for the blog, I wouldn’t have finished it. Given how popular Julie Garwood is, I was hoping for more and was badly disappointed. Maybe someday I’ll give another of her books a try – if I’m really desperate. Meanwhile, if your "To be read" list is getting out of hand, go ahead and skip this one.

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