Nightfall is one of those books I’ve meant to get around to reading for ages. As is often the case, I haven’t been able to manage it, so when the audiobook appeared, I jumped on it straight away. Originally published in 1995, it’s a standalone romantic thriller that goes to some pretty dark and disturbing places; Ms. Stuart is known for writing bad-boy heroes who generally occupy shaky moral ground and walk a thin line between being an alpha hero and an alpha-hole, and in this book especially, that line is very, very blurred. I happen to be a fan of Ms. Stuart’s particular brand of tough, ruthless gamma heroes, because she usually manages to keep them on just the right side of that line, but I can accept they’re not for everyone.
Richard Tiernan has been convicted of murdering his wife and is suspected of killing another women and also his two young children, who have vanished. He is awaiting sentencing and has been bailed temporarily by Sean O’ Rourke, a famous author who is, it is assumed, is going to write Richard’s story, detailing his crimes and offering insight into the mind of a man guilty of such heinous acts. If the book nets Sean a Pulitzer, too, he’s not going to complain.
Cassidy Roarke has resigned herself to being more or less an afterthought in her father’s life, so is surprised when he calls her to ask her to come home for a visit. Suspicious, and maybe just a little concerned (this is so unlike Sean), Cassidy goes – only to find herself confronting a convicted killer in the kitchen. Richard Tiernan is handsome as sin, darkly cynical and utterly compelling – and Cassidy is fascinated even as she is furious with Sean for springing such an unwelcome surprise on her.
She doesn’t know the half of it though. While Sean has, ostensibly, asked Cassidy to help him with the book – she is an editor by profession – it was Richard who insisted on her presence and her egotistical arsehole of a father is prepared to do anything – even throw his daughter into the arms of a convicted killer – to obtain his story.
Ms. Stuart doesn’t make it easy for listeners to like Richard, who is a cold, dispassionate and ruthless man who loves to twist words and tease Cassidy as to the likelihood of his guilt or innocence. Her attraction to him does appear almost out of the blue, and at first, I wasn’t quite sure why she was so drawn to him – although that whole damaged, brooding sexiness he has going on probably has something to do with it! He’s manipulative and cryptic, but somehow, as I began to suspect the truth, it was strangely easy to admire his determination to do what he had to do in order to protect the people he loved. I’m a bit on the fence about Cassidy, who is supposed to be a confident, professional woman, but who has a tendency to be somewhat gullible and naïve. That said, she does show her true colours eventually and is prepared to stand up and fight for what she knows to be right and, like Richard, for those closest to her.
Cassidy knows she should steer well clear of Richard, but she’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame and can’t resist the almost magnetic pull between them. Ms. Stuart plays with the is he?/isn’t he? question brilliantly, and Richard is probably one of her most austere, impenetrable, heroes. He’s a cold ruthless bastard and gives nothing away. He’s a dead man walking, refusing to fight his conviction and focusing instead on something he will stop at nothing to see done before sentence is passed and the death penalty is carried out.
I said at the outset that the main storyline of Nightfall goes to some dark places, and Ms. Stuart pulls no punches when it comes to revealing the truth of what happened to Richard’s wife and children. Some may find that truth difficult to listen to, although we are told things in retrospect and don’t actually witness them. But it’s still quite shocking and forewarned is forearmed.
New-to-me narrator Evan Harris delivers a solid performance, although I do have some issues with certain technical aspects of his narration and with the sound quality. On the positive side, both narrative and dialogue are well-paced, the characters are well differentiated and the female roles are performed without recourse to falsetto. His portrayal of Richard works really well; his voice just drips with sarcasm and he has caught the manipulative essence of the character while also, later in the book, bringing a deeper emotional nuance to his interpretation that serves to allow the listener to glimpse the driven, fiercely protective man beneath the enigmatic exterior. There are times when he veers close to the wrong side of creepy, but for the most part it’s a strong and insightful portrayal.
Now, as to the issues I mentioned. I know that audible breath sounds can be a huge problem for some listeners, although it’s not something that normally bothers me to a huge extent. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to an audiobook in which the narrator takes huge gasps between phrases – that really would drive me nuts! Mr. Harris doesn’t do that, but sometime around the half-way point I started to notice that he has a habit of taking in nasal breaths at the ends of phrases and sentences, which gradually became increasingly intrusive – one of those things that, once noticed, can’t be un-noticed. It’s not horrible, but I suspect it could be irritating for some listeners. The other major quibble I have with the audiobook is the sound quality, which is uneven throughout. In some chapters or parts of chapters, there is an audible background hiss – I made a note that it’s quite pronounced in Chapter 17, for example – whereas in other places (Chapter 18) it’s not there at all. When the hiss is present, you can hear it even with the volume at a reasonable “mid” level, and it seems to come and go at random.
I’m a big fan of Anne Stuart’s; I’ve listened to a number of her novels in audio format and yet it strikes me that with one or two exceptions, she has yet to have a truly outstanding narrator performing her work. In fact, I’ve decided against listening to some recent releases I’ve really enjoyed in print (The Spinster and the Rake and Lady Fortune, to name but two) because I listened to samples and the narrators are sub-par. I know Ms. Stuart is an audiobook fan, and it saddens me that the publishers just don’t seem able to get it right for her. Come on people! This is Anne Stuart for heaven’s sake! Stop using mediocre narrators and find someone who can really do her books justice. If Devil’s Waltz ever comes out and isn’t narrated by Kate Reading, it will be a tragedy of the highest magnitude.
But back to Nightfall, which is a decent listen, although not a great one. Evan Harris seems to be new to the genre (he’s got a dozen titles to his name at Audible) and while he acquits himself well, I couldn’t help wondering what sort of job Michael Pauley would have made of it (his performance in Shadow Lover is terrific). That said, I did enjoy listening to Nightfall in spite of my reservations – the story is gripping and the hero – love him or hate him – is undeniably fascinating. I’m sure Ms. Stuart’s many fans will enjoy it, too.
Just… come on, publishers. Give a great author the great narrators she deserves.
AUTHOR: Anne Stuart
NARRATED BY: Evan Harris
GENRE: Romantic Suspense
STEAM FACTOR: Glad I had my earbuds in
REVIEWER: CazBuy Nightfall by Anne Stuart on Amazon