Die Before I Wake

Laurie Breton
2008, Romantic Suspense
MIRA, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778325903

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

I've picked up more than my fair share of gothics at the UBS and I've enjoyed most of them. When I started reading Die Before I Wake, I thought I had stumbled upon a fabulous throwback to the gothics of old. The subtle but unrelenting aura of menace was there, as was the heroine isolated from all she found familiar. However, the book stumbled a bit as the author incorporated a few too many of the less likable 70s throwbacks into the storyline.

After a horrible series of losses, Julie Hanrahan leaves L.A. behind for a cruise to recharge herself and come back to her life refreshed. However, she gets more than she bargains for when she meets obstetrician Thomas Larkin on board the ship. After a whirlwind courtship of just a few days, the two marry and she moves to Maine to begin a new life as wife and stepmother to her husband's two young daughters. Julie is not certain what to expect and finds herself not entirely prepared for the resentful stepdaughter and unwelcoming mother-in-law who greet her.

Julie tries to keep a positive attitude about her circumstances and her relationship with her new husband helps to an extent. However, as she continues to meet hostility in the house - and sometimes even in town - and as strange accidents begin to occur, she has a harder time keeping her life together. In addition, she starts to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Tom's first wife and feels very unsettled by what she learns. The fact that Tom seems to work constantly and is not there to allay her fears does little to help the situation.

The book's main strength comes from the voice of the narrator. Julie really does sound like a heroine from the best of the old gothic mysteries. As she recounts her tale, the suspense in the story builds ever so subtly until the reader can't help but fly through the pages. Unfortunately, Julie tends to be a little too trusting and, while at first I couldn't put the book down as she struggled to settle into her new life, it starts to wear by the second half.

While Tom and Julie have their moments, aspects of their relationship made for a bit of an eyeroller at times, too. Tom takes a rather domineering, "There, there, I'm the man of the house so I know best" attitude toward Julie which comes as a rather unwelcome throwback to eras past. In addition, while his refusal to discuss his wife's death with Julie and his daughters certainly adds to the mystery of the story, it also frustrated me as a reader. This curious reaction, combined with Tom's overbearing tendencies, also make him seem like a jerk and by the last portion of the book, I wondered if Julie might not find a better HEA with someone else.

Die Before I Wake contains plenty of plot twists and it does start off very strongly. Readers who can handle old-fashioned, overbearing heroes will likely enjoy the book more than I did, but I can't escape my own bias and preferences. I don't need super-butt-kicking heroines all the time, but one can be feminine and still have a spine just as one can be strong and masculine without being an ass. The main characters in this novel take entirely too long to figure that basic proposition out, and so I found myself frustrated with this book as often as I found myself enjoying it.

-- Lynn Spencer

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