Three domestic noirs for December


Three domestic noirs for December

DEBORAH STEINMAIR wants to escape load-shedding, water-shifting and the mad dash to meet deadlines.


DOMESTIC noir is my secret vice, my favourite escape from the clutches of year end with its final, urgent demands and scorching heat. Three books made me forget about looming deadlines, load-shedding and declining water levels.

I don't usually read love stories — all those heteronormative, hormone-laden moments culminating in marriage sometimes become too much for me — but if you can load your love stories with intrigue, psychological tension and vibrant characters, I'll try them. Nora Roberts is a bestselling phenomenon — an American author who has written more than 255 love stories, and counting. 

Identity begins as a domestic noir, and I was ready to hyperventilate throughout the book: Morgan Allbright was a military brat who never put down roots anywhere. As an adult, she starts over in a town in Baltimore. She wants to own a house and cultivate a garden. She works as a waitress and bartender and is well on her way to paying off her mortgage and starting her own restaurant.

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Then she meets an attractive, charming guy in the bar where she works. He's smooth and makes all the right sounds. “Luke" is an IT guy in town on a freelance job. They go out a few times and she invites him for dinner. Then her world collapses: her home is broken into and her roommate is murdered. Luke disappears without a trace. But there's more: he's a notorious identity thief who gained access to all her accounts through her computer and stole her identity. Credit card debt piles up and she loses her house.

Her only option is to return to Vermont and live with her mom and grandmother. Exit the domestic noir, to reappear only at the suspenseful ending. The middle part is an idyllic, rural love story — the positive, gifted, beautiful Morgan starts working for a wealthy family in their resort. She and the oldest son fall in love. She regains her confidence and shines like a star.

There's only one problem: Luke (actually Gavin) is still on the loose, and she's in his crosshairs. He feels she stole his mojo: he's a serial killer and wanted to murder her (she's his type), but her roommate confronted him and he had to kill her instead. It wasn't satisfying enough. Then he had to flee.

One of the delights of the book for me was when the attractive, muscular villain and lowlife on the run eats junk food, gets fat and bitter, and becomes addicted to the humble potato in all its forms, preferably greasy. You have to read for yourself how it plays out. I was hooked.

Who, what, where and how much?

Identity by Nora Roberts was published by Little, Brown Group and costs R370 at Exclusive Books.

I devoured this book while trying to pace myself so it would last longer. As is often the case, the back cover gives away far too much of the story. I don't want to commit the same sin.

It takes place in China and America. Jasmin Yang is stunningly beautiful and hates her appearance because it leads to her being sold at 15 to a much older diplomat. He is manipulative and domineering, jealous and sadistic. Moreover, she fails to give him the son he insists on having.

She escapes from her Chinese village and ends up in New York as an illegal immigrant. It's difficult to find work. But she has a goal in mind, and nothing will deter her. Her appearance and necessity lead to a job as a waitress in a risqué club for Chinese men.

The other main character, Rebecca Whitney, is a publisher (I always enjoy reading about the glamorous world of publishing in Manhattan) with a lovely house, an attractive husband and an adopted Chinese daughter whom they love dearly. But one of Rebecca's authors is caught in plagiarism, putting Rebecca's job at risk. Things are also not going well on the home front. Can you guess how the paths of these two women will cross?

There is also a tender love story amid all the adversity: Jasmin and Anthony with the English name have been inseparable since childhood. Then an ugly misunderstanding ruins everything. She encounters him again in New York. Both still feel the same, but there has been so much heartbreak and so much is at stake that Jasmin doesn't feel up to gambling with her heart again. Moreover, her psychopathic husband is hot on her heels.

It's tense and compelling. I highly recommend it.

Who, what, where and how much?

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok was published by Profile Books and costs R390 at Exclusive Books.

Ellen Saint is an obsessive type of character. She seemingly always has been, then tragedy caused her to derail even further: her 17-year-old son, Lucas, dies in an accident. She blames his friend, an orphan given a chance at Lucas's expensive school, assigned to him by the headmaster to help him integrate.

Kieran Watts is a complex character: a short, chubby boy with red hair and acne, full of bravado and slang, cool and charming. He captivates all the kids and alienates the parents and teachers. He is reckless and wild. All he cares about is alcohol, drugs, reckless driving, bunking school. And girls, especially Lucas's girlfriend, Jade. He and Lucas were illegally joyriding in his foster mom's car when Kieran took a turn too fast and the car ended up in a reservoir. Kieran escaped through the passenger window but Lucas drowned in the passenger seat. Kieran allegedly was confused and traumatised, wandered off and didn't call for help.

Ellen is embittered and her life is consumed by a revenge obsession. She pays her inheritance to a syndicate to take Kieran out. He disappears and she doesn't feel a moment's guilt. Until one day, a few years later, she sees him through a window on the roof of a penthouse in New York. Alive and highly successful.

Now her obsession takes over again. It's an excellent psychological thriller that kept me awake.

Who, what, where and how much?

The Heights by Louise Candlish was published by Simon & Schuster and costs R361 at Exclusive Books

What are we listening to?

Mercedes Sosa, Grandes éxitos, the whole album for good measure:

♦ VWB ♦

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