Do you have any idea how many different flowers there are in the known universe? A lot. Bear this in mind as we explore Christine Feehan’s Night Game.
The new episode in Feehan’s “GhostWalker” series comes “specially designed for comfortable reading.” Other things designed for my comfort are feminine hygiene products. Comfort is one of those elastic words designed to mask a product’s real function – if one were to rely on advertising alone, the true purpose of these products would be lost. This particular book was no more or no less comfortable than any other book I’m reading. It does cost more, drawing me to conclude that comfort means pricy.
This comfortable read tells the story of Iris “Flame” Johnson (quick: guess the color of her hair!) and Raoul “Gator” Fontenot. Yes, the names appeared just like that in the text. This tick carried on far too long; I got it on the first page.
Like Lily and Dahlia, the flowers of books before her, Flame underwent psychic and genetic tinkering. Lots of bad stuff happened. Cancer. She became a killing machine. She escaped. Now a mad scientist is after her – though his reason seems a bit fuzzy – and it’s up to Gator to find her and bring back to the GhostWalker compound for medical help. He’s already headed in her direction, hot on the trail of another mystery. Why let a good coincidence go to waste?
Flame’s motivations and goals are unclear. Is she searching for Dahlia, seeking clues about a missing blues singer, or finding justice for a kindly old ship captain? Sure a girl can multi-task, but Flame didn’t really exist on the page until the end of the book, and that was far too late for me.
Gator volunteered for enhancements and generally considers what they did to him as useful, though trauma inducing. He, like Flame, is fast, strong, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Of course, he’s also just looking to settle down with a family of his own, creating conflict with the sterile Flame (never fear: Feehan solves this problem, eliminating the specter of adoption; heaven forbid that romance characters can’t reproduce themselves for future novels).
Gator suffers from a romance cliché: the Curse of Dialect. In the first chapter, he speaks like a normal guy with a few French phrases thrown in to make it clear that he’s Cajun. Later he’s all drawlin’ this and forgettin’ that and calling Flame “sugah”. Yeah, “sugah”. Makes me want to cry.
Two events bring our characters together: Flame is seeking Dahlia, presumably to hear her rhapsodize all saccharine about her life, and a Fontenot family friend is kidnapped. Flame pencils finding the missing girl into her busy schedule; Gator is on the case because his beloved grandmother asks for a favor. Other than serving to put the two characters in the same place at the same time, the kidnapping forms a mostly pointless secondary plot. The key story involves the mysterious cadre of trained military types after Flame. Presumably their motivation will be revealed in subsequent novels. Closure isn’t happening here.
Flame refuses to go anywhere with Gator, fearing more experiments. Fair enough. Until she starts the action-adventure equivalent of going into the basement while a psycho killer is on the loose. She should be hitting the road as fast as she can. Instead, she sticks around, making herself an easy target. Her lips say no, but her actions say yes.
The GhostWalkers are ostensibly an elite, psychic military squad, and more than few show up in this book, breaking all kinds of laws about military operations on U.S. soil. Bad, bad boys. The team’s purpose is murky. They should dump their kitschy creed and draft a mission statement. GhostWalkers seem to be a male-only club; however, prior to their enhancement, work was done on young girls. In romance parlance, this means there is one girl for every GhostWalker. I’ll let you absorb the beauty of this symmetry for a moment.
While I’m not opposed to the underlying premise, the entire cast of secondary characters feels one-dimensional. Feehan might want to study Suzanne Brockmann a bit more. If you’re going to write a series, it’s your job to help me become emotionally invested in all series regulars so that I’ll buy future books.
Feehan also makes a fundamental mistake with her villains: they are bad to the bone. No shades of gray, no nuance. They are, in fact, so bad that they bored me to tears. They torture, they rape, they wield guns, they alter human genetics. . .evil stuff, certainly. I should have a visceral reaction to these characters (or at least an urge to side with the good guys). Instead, they were cartoonish.
We meet Flame as she breaks into a bad guy’s house, exacting revenge for previous wrongs. This dude is rotten meat. He deserves to be robbed. This isn’t good versus evil. This is bigger.
Feehan’s laundry list of generic crimes makes Flame’s personal stake in the robbery feel contrived – call it just another cute meet between super-charged characters. This extends to other baddies. We know the what of their behavior, we don’t know the why. It’s like someone took cardboard cutouts and put them in a novel.
This lack of depth extends to the series’ uber-villain, one presumably dead Peter Whitney. Yes kids, it’s true: our highly-trained crime-fighting team failed to verify actual death. There are times to rely on psychic visions and there are times to do some physical verification.
Casual watchers of soap operas know that unless you witness the body a) drained off all blood, b) hacked to bits, c) flatlining for a few hours (or episodes), or d) cremated (by which I mean you see the body enter the incinerator and come out as ashes, no blinking allowed), the character will rise from the dead at a convenient moment. The GhostWalkers failed the test, allowing Whitney to wreak havoc from behind the scenes.
Feehan is not a bad writer. She tends to err on the side of vague description rather than painting concrete images, making a blues song sound like bad pop jazz. If Flame enchants a room full of men, I want to be mesmerized as well.
Feehan’s distant point-of-view style keeps readers at a distance.
She does much better with action sequences, though they do tend to go on too long. And she avoids euphemisms for body parts. I’ll give her credit for writing a hot sex scene; granted, this will be zeroed out because her sultry, sexy, make-a-man-come-in-his-jeans heroine is a virgin. And, yeah, Gator is so big, Flame has no idea how he’ll fit. Hello, cliché!