Stranger in the Moonlight

Jude Deveraux
September 2012, Contemporary Romance
Pocket, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 1416509755

Grade: D
Sensuality: Warm

Ms. Deveraux’s talent as a wordsmith is not enough to overcome the caricatured characters and weakly plotted story. And while it is not immediately noticeable, I was amazed at several themes within the story that are insulting to women.

Twelve-year-old Travis Merritt's life dramatically changed after his two-week vacation in Edilean, Virginia. Home schooled at his father’s insistence, Travis' solitary life is filled with quiet days studying with his tutor. He doesn’t have any friends and his mother is incapable of standing up to his father. However, when his father goes away to Japan, he and his mother sneak away to Edilean. There he meets an eight-year-old girl, Kim Aldredge, who claims she is good at having fun, and offers to show him how to have it. He spends his days learning to ride a bike, climb a tree, skim rocks across ponds and play ball. When his mother gets word that he father is on his way home, they abruptly leave in the middle of the night, depriving him of the opportunity of saying goodbye.

Still this eye-opening experience changed him, and he has the courage to demand that his father allow physical instruction as well as academic. This training serves him well as he later embraces extreme sports, even winning in the Monte Carlos races. After he and his father have a falling out, he uses this aptitude to establish a career as a stuntman. It is only after his mother absconds with millions of his father’s money, hiding out in Edilean, that he is blackmailed into joining his father’s firm. However the status quo is about to change again, as four years later his mother calls to inform him she has fallen in love and wants a divorce. He is both hesitant and exhilarated at the thought of returning to Edilean.

Kim Aldredge is a successful and talented jewelry designer. She appears to be lucky in all things except love. She's dating someone nice, but there are no fireworks; still, she is hopeful that it might develop into something significant. At her cousin Tristan’s wedding she escapes from all the happy couples to spend time at the old playhouse - filled with so many happy childhood memories - when a stranger asks, “Do you still teach people to have fun?” Assuming this is just another pickup line she starts to leave, but with the next question she realizes that the man is Travis. Travis confides that he is there checking up on his mother, revealing to Kim that he is afraid his mother has fallen for someone only interested in her money or worst, another intimidating man. After exchanging confidences and spending time catching up it becomes late, so Kim offers Travis the use of her guesthouse.

Women do very poorly in Ms. Deveraux's world. Throughout the book there is a recurring “little woman” theme. Travis’ mother is such a weak doormat that he reaches the age of twelve without ever having played, which honestly took me aback. Parents do play with their children. Over the years Travis has turned into his mother’s protector, and unbeknownst to Kim, her protector too. He follows her progress on the web. He appears at her jewelry showings, although never letting her see him, and when the bank was about to turn down her home mortgage loan, he interfered. Even though he is displaying stalker characteristics, he excuses it because he cares so much for her. However, during this time he is busy adding notches to his bedpost.

Any types of ethics - from work to confidentiality - are in short supply in Stranger In the Moonlight. Kim is supposedly this professional businesswoman, but at the first sign of interest from Travis, pawns off an important project to her assistant so she can spend time with Travis, as he breaks into his mother’s boyfriend’s business. Who also happens to be Kim’s best friend’s father. During the drive there, they take a turn onto a nearly impassable road. Without telling Kim of his experience as a race car driver, he just implores her to trust him, and frightens her to death as he uses the tricks of his trade. At the end of the tumultuous ride, Kim looks like a shock victim, just meekly sitting there and saying she is fine. That reaction seems so off. I can tell you profanities would have been coming out of my mouth, along with "Are you f*** crazy?" Looks like Travis has found a doormat like his mother.

There are a couple of secondary romances, but the plot details are paper thin as is Travis’ big denouement with his family.

No surprise that I am not recommending this book. You should definitely use the three to four hours it would take you to read this book on another one.

-- Leigh Davis

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