In the Thrill of the Night is the first book in Hern's new series, "The Merry Widows" and with her new publisher. The series has a great, provocative premise and this book sets a fun tone for the rest of the series.
We begin with the first meeting of the Season for the trustees of The Benevolent Widows Fund, a charity run by financially independent scions of society – all young widows in their thirties. One of them regales her fellows with a tale of having taken a young lover during a summer house party and extolling the restorative virtues of doing so, urging them all to do the same. None of them wish to remarry, none need to, but neither are they dead.
Marianne Nesbitt, a widow of two years, finds the ensuing discussion fascinating. She married her true love, but the sexual rapture described by her friend is not what she had with David. Their lovemaking was more tender than passionate, and the idea of experiencing passion takes root. She wonders what she has been missing and determines to find out. The ladies all make a pact to keep an open mind and eye to the possibilities of having a love affair this Season.
One man suggested to Marianne as a possible candidate is Adam Cazenove (oy! That name!), her husband's best friend and next door neighbor, who still jumps the adjoining balcony to visit with Marianne in her boudoir. She is appalled at the thought; Adam is too good a friend – her best friend since David's death – and she doesn't wish to risk alienating that friendship with a love affair gone wrong. But once the idea has been introduced, she can't seem to stop thinking about it, especially as Adam is rumored to be a very good lover.
When Marianne confides that she has decided to take a lover, Adam is shocked right down to his toenails. Once he gets over his initial gut reaction, his immediate thought is, "Me!" – a thought just as shocking. But Adam has a surprise of his own for Marianne: over the summer he got himself engaged to a beautiful but empty-headed chit, so even the possibility of an affair is gone. But not forgotten.
Hern does such a great job of showing the beginnings, the fleeting thought processes, the tiny steps toward changing Marianne and Adam's relationship from that of best friends to falling in love. Each has to deal with the guilt that thinking about an affair or that even looking at each other as sexual beings would be a betrayal of David's memory. Adam has the hardest time, and spends a great deal of time lying to himself about his feelings for Marianne
Both Marianne and Adam are sympathetic and appealing characters and I enjoyed the time they spent together. Hern amply shows how close they are and their conversations are imbued with friendly banter and the caring of two people who love and are comfortable with each other. There is lots of fun to be had in Marianne's tentative steps at flirtation and Adam's sabotaging of her list of prospective lovers.
I enjoyed the glimpses I got of the other Merry Widows and look forward to their stories. In the Thrill of the Night offers some sweet moments, some sexy moments, some funny moments, and some frustrating moments (when Adam goes too far in his sabotage efforts), and all these moments add up to a book I am happy to recommend.
Reviewed by Cheryl Sneed, February 2, 2006