Ellery O'Brien is a news anchor for a major programme in Washington DC. Successful, very attractive and seemingly with everything she could wish for, she is astounded when her father, dying from cancer, tells her not only is he not her biological father, but that she has a twin sister. The girls were separated at birth, Ellery staying with her mother, whilst her sister was taken by their father – married to somebody else at the time the girls were born. Ellery's mother died when she was very young and her father has kept the secret as a promise to his wife for all these years.
When her father dies shortly after, Ellery travels to her mother's home town in Texas to try to find her sister, not realising that in the process she has rented the very house that she is seeing in a series of violent and disturbing nightmares. At first, nobody in town seems to know anything but Ellery meets local rancher Clint and together they find out the truth about her sister.
This book has, on the face of it, an interesting concept. The search for a lost twin, the possibility of coincidence not only in the way that the girls look, but in parallel lines in their lives. Unfortunately the concept is not well served in ALONE IN THE DARK.
The main characters – Ellery and Clint are just way to “perfect” to be true. She's beautiful, successful, great legs, wealthy, independent, vulnerable..... He's the chisel jawed, taciturn rancher. They fall for each other despite a prickly first encounter. The town is full of happy friendly people; mysterious women sitting in darkened rooms; family members who just immediately open up about all the dirty secrets; family members who remain enigmatic.
And there are some very weird plot points that just don't make sense or surge to the front and then disappear never to be seen again. Ellery has her beloved dog Bertha, who, it's pointed out very early on “isn't much of a watchdog”. Convenient given what starts to happen when somebody is breaking into the house she's living in and performing all sorts of nefarious acts. But even allowing for the fact that we've got a dog that's not much of a watchdog, Ellery wonders why she doesn't bark when the house is broken into when she's home, although she never bothers to actually go and check on the poor thing, and then the dog is bundled off to Clint's ranch and never heard of again. Very strange behaviour for a supposed lover of that dog. There was also the almost incomprehensible goings on with Ellery's contact lenses – which are coloured and they, and her blonded hair, seem to have been the main reason that nobody connected Ellery immediately with her twin sister. Possible maybe, but the constant reference to those contact lenses, even after she had been firmly connected with her sister - what was the point? At the start of the book, assumingly to establish the level of Ellery's fabulousness, considerable emphasis is placed on how vitally important she is to her shows ratings and how they couldn't possible survive without her. So she packs up with zero notice and heads off to the wilds of Texas, without a backward glance at the job – except to tell all and sundry that she's a famous news anchor! Finally there was a real tendency throughout the book to telegraph all future actions in a very obvious manner. One small household accident, an appliance that “strangely” couldn't be repaired / replaced and you've got a potential future defence / murder weapon. At that point, given that there was only one Not Perfect character in the entire book, it wasn't too difficult to work out what was coming. The dialogue was arch, coy and frequently turgid and ultimately the book was messy with lots of loose ends thrown into the mix. It really felt like it couldn't decide if it was a straight romance or a mystery novel and just got lost somewhere in the middle.
Elaine Coffman's publicity mentions that she is a New York Times bestselling author, and that ALONE IN THE DARK is the first mystery / crime novel by this romance author. Fans of hers will undoubtedly read this book to see how she converts from straight romance to romantic mystery.