As I'm up in the frozen north of England this week, it seems rather appropriate to be reviewing a book entitled 'Ice'. Sadly though, this 'Ice' turned out to be more slush than anything else.
There was a time when Linda Howard was up there with the likes of Nora Roberts and Anne Stuart when it came to contemporary romantic suspense and her earlier books had led her to be an almost automatic buy (or borrow) for me but around the time of the millenium, it was as though she'd taken a wrong writing direction because something happened to her writing style which has seen her going downhill ever since. With 'Ice', I'm afraid she's reached an absolute nadir in my opinion.
Price and availability
This book is available in paperback and is currently selling for £8.66 (trade size) on Amazon. The mass market paperback is due to be released next month (December). Used copies are also available from £1.36. I borrowed my copy from the library.
Gabriel McQueen has just arrived home for the holidays in a backwater town in Maine when his sheriff father sends him up the mountain to warn Lolly Helton, who is uncontactable by phone, that there's an ice storm coming. Gabriel is ordered to bring Lolly back to town and she's someone he's not looking forward to meeting again, especially as he used to tease her unmercifully when they were at school. When he eventually arrives at Lolly's house, however, someone has got there before him and they're armed and dangerous. Although Gabriel manages to help Lolly escape, the ice storm has begun and the surrounding woods are not the most hospitable place to be when you're running for your life in the freezing dark.
Like many writers of romance, Linda Howard began by writing straightforward series romance of the type published by Mills & Boon and Silhouette and as she became better, she moved to writing longer novels which, although still romances, had much more bite to them. She rapidly gained a huge following from romance readers who loved her exciting stories, her kick ass heroines and the raunchy love scenes which, on occasion, were verging on soft porn. Again, like most romance writers, she wanted to move into a more wide ranging genre and chose to move into suspense/thriller writing. She eased off on the romantic element, although her books still retained a love story at their heart, she reduced the amount of rumpy pumpy and she upped the violence. Her first couple of books were light and funny but also had an excellent suspense element to them but as she progressed with this genre, the stories took on a darker edge, she lost the humour and began treading a rather dodgy line, using storylines which were somewhat less appealing, dealing as they did with poor misunderstood contract killers and rogue CIA agents whom she tried to redeem and failed, at least in my eyes. My opinion is that a killer is a killer whether it's on behalf of the state or not.
Although Linda Howard has recently dropped off my must-read list, when I spotted this one on the library shelves, I decided to give her one last chance. Sadly, it will be the last time unless something radically changes with her writing, because this book was as disappointing as I'd found the previous two or three titles.
The premise of the story is a good one and could have been developed in such a way as to keep the tension running high. Lolly Helton is closing up her family home and is followed from town by two drug addicts hoping to steal enough money to support their habit. She then finds herself trapped in her isolated home with these two highly volatile individuals wielding a deadly weapon and beginning to come down from their last 'high'.
The first problem is that Darwin and Nikki, the drug addicts, although thoroughly unpleasant characters, just don't really hack it as baddies. The book title 'Ice' has a two-fold meaning: the obvious one referring to the ice storm which is raging throughout the action of the book but also it alludes to the crystal meth to which Darwin and Nikki are addicted. Crystal meth apparently has the street name of ice.
Although these two druggies have a gun, both of them are so jittery because of their habit that they are unable to shoot straight and I feel that Linda Howard credits them with much more guile and cunning than someone in need of a fix would ever have. In fact, one of them is killed before we're even half way through the story, which reduces the tension somewhat.
To my mind, the real enemy in the story should have been the weather, surely a far more cruel killer than either Darwin or Nikki could ever hope to be. Never having experienced an ice storm, it was interesting to read about trees being frozen so completely that their branches, or indeed the whole tree, snapped off like twigs. Again, Linda Howard doesn't really seem to make enough of this. She's too busy trying to build a romance between the two main protagonists, Lolly and Gabriel.
Lolly and Gabriel have a bit of a history, but not much! They were at high school together and Gabriel used to tease Lolly because she didn't seem to fancy him like every other female in school, though unbeknownst to him, she had a bit of a crush on him. Fast forward fifteen years and Gabriel is now a widower with a child, a military policeman home on leave and he's reluctantly made his way up the mountain to fetch Lolly. I found it hard to like either of these two people very much, largely because I didn't feel I was given a chance to get to know either of them very well, so I really didn't care what happened to them. They could have frozen to death in the woods or slid off the side of the mountain for all the impact they made on me. Because the action in this novel takes place over such a short period of time (less than 48 hours), Ms Howard had set herself an almost impossible task in trying to build any kind of romance and I feel she'd have been better not even trying and concentrating on the suspense alone. The book would have been better for it.
This was a very pedestrian novel with a poorly conceived plot, pretty poor characterisation and I felt as though Ms Howard's heart simply wasn't in it , she was just going through the motions and that she didn't really buy into the book either. It was all a bit of a disappointment. The quote on the front cover is from a reviewer from Bella magazine who says "Suspense that'll keep you on the edge of your seat". That reviewer should be sued under the trades description act because the suspense in this book is about as gripping as a pair of Nora Batty's stockings!
This latest effort from Linda Howard, although I seriously doubt she put much actual effort into producing this novel, was a big disappointment that didn't deliver either a suspenseful read or a satisfactory romance. I'm afraid, she's now relegated herself to my B list.