When I saw Edge of Light by Cynthia Justlin available as one of the Carina Press options on NetGalley, I felt a serious jonesing for a romantic suspense novel and immediately requested it. Look at the cover – neat colors, the haunted look of the person behind bars, the bleeding edge of the title – this is a prime romantic suspense book cover! I was getting little creepy chills examining the details.
Of course, before requesting it, I toodled over to Amazon and Goodreads to read the reviews and was more than a little baffled. The reviews were rather mixed, with readers either in the “I love it” or “It was so graphic I hated it and didn’t finish.”
*minor rant about people who cannot interpret romance covers* Whenever I notice a schizophrenia happening in the reviews, I usually just read the book to see where I come out on the spectrum, but in this case, I could tell right off the bat that the people who didn’t like the book are NOT connoisseurs of romance covers. Every cranky comment had a “I wish there had been more romance” or “It was so graphic” angle.
People. LOOK AT THE COVER. Do you see two people making kissyface or even embracing? No, you do not. This is a signal the emphasis will be more on suspense and not as much on the romance. Do you see the creepy prison bars and read the description about it being about a crappy Cambodian prison? This is a BIG signal that it will have lots of disturbing details because any prison, to say nothing of Cambodian prisons built around slave labor camps, are not known for their amenities and little Bliss shampoo giveaways. You need to use your experience to let your cover knowledge increase so you can make better choices in the future. *rant concluded*
Jocelyn Hewitt is a forensic anthropologist comfortable in the jungle. She finagles her way to Cambodia, helping on an assignment but really looking for evidence of her father, a scholar and adventurer who disappeared years ago. Her team massacred in front of her and taken hostage, Jocelyn ends up in a prison with a madman who believes she can lead him to a priceless treasure. And she’s not the only one behind bars.
Oliver Shaw can hardly remember a time when he wasn’t trapped in this horrible prison. Taken along with his CIA team two years ago, he has both physical scars and psychological ones from watching his team (including his girlfriend) massacred in front of him. Kept alive by virtue of the art he creates for the demented prison overseer, he hears Jocelyn’s voice and doesn’t want to care about another person who can be taken away. But he can’t help himself, as his interaction with her awakens memories and feelings of who he really is. Can they escape and if they do, will what they have still remain in the light of day?
Right off the bat, I was incredibly impressed with Oliver’s character. He is a great tortured hero, who has mentally fought back by surviving when all odds are stacked against him. Knowing the CIA has written him off as dead, he gets his only energy from the artistic act of creating the numerous church scenes the villain requires, giving great dimension to his character and his point of view. Oliver’s memories and thoughts are heart wrenching, so much so that it provides a wonderful measure when you realize how Jocelyn is affecting him for the better.
Justlin also does an excellent job with the practically nonstop action. I loved that she started the reader right in the middle of the action and it just kept going. Even when the protagonists were at rest, mentally they were churning and moving the story along. It doesn’t hurt that the villain makes Hannibal Lecter look like your friendly town councilman. I think the only time I questioned the motivation of one of characters was when Jocelyn was making some decisions at the end of the book, but it was pretty minor.
Edge of Light would be a wonderful transition book for readers used to Tom Clancy-esque thrillers who are ready for a little more romance in their page-turning. Sadly, this book seems to be in e-book form only, so I’m not sure if the print release date is delayed or it’s only going to be digital. Either way, I’d encourage lovers of romantic suspense to check out Cynthia Justlin’s latest novel. Oh, and be sure to take a good look at the cover.