The Best of Enemies by Taylor Smith
Mira, $5.99, G, ISBN-1-55166-277-9
*****
The Best of Enemies, a high energy, fast-paced romance, opens with a bomb exploding in front of Data-Trax, a Newton, Massachusetts, high-tech defense contractor. Nine are killed and scores injured. While rescue operations are ongoing, the FBI recovers the security tapes from the front lobby. Identified as driving away seconds before the explosion is Holly Stroud, daughter of the Ambassador to Israel. A quick investigation reveals she was accompanied by her new lover, Karim Khoury, a naturalized citizen from Palestine.

Holly attends Mount Abbey College in nearby Winslow, and her faculty advisor is Leya Nash, the English and Drama professor. Leya is the daughter of Carter Nash, retired CIA head in Beirut. Holly turns to Leya when a news bulletin names her as a suspect. She explains to Leya that she had merely taken Karim to Data-Trax for a job interview.

While they are talking, the doorbell rings. Standing there is Peter VanAken, FBI agent. Leya hasn't seen Peter in ten years and he is suddenly there, looking for Holly. Ten years before, Peter had worked for Carter Nash in Beirut as an undercover CIA operative. While doing that he was kidnapped and spent four years chained to a wall in a makeshift prison. Several weeks before his capture, Leya met Peter. They fell in love. Leya is still haunted by that affair, and unable to develop any meaningful relationships because of it.

Carter Nash attempted to discredit Peter and to have charged him with treason upon his return to the United States. Len Rickhauser, Asst. Director in Charge of the FBI, defended him, and later hired him as an agent. Peter was using Karim as a source and undercover operative hoping to infiltrate a Palestine terrorist group. Holly overhears Peter and Leya talking and flees

The story surges forward on two fronts: At the bomb site, the investigation continues as Len broadens its scope. At the college, Peter and Leya, acting as somewhat unwilling allies, try to find Holly and Karim.

The author, Taylor Smith clearly draws from the experiences of her diplomatic postings while working for the Canadian Foreign Service. Technical data, where presented, is done in an informative rather than a lecturing manner. The plot is very tight, and it is a real joy to read a book which segues from event to event in a seamless fashion rather than in a contrived one.

But the author's greatest strength may be in her character development. She has such a deft and light touch when creating a character that you are almost unaware she is doing it. You are drawn in quickly to the anguish, fears and hopes of the actors, and remain there as it plays out. Part of the fascination of this book is the way in which the author leads you logically to surprising resolutions.

This is one of the most fast-paced and best constructed suspense stories I have read in a long time. Romance is the pervasive theme throughout the book, but if you are looking for detailed sex scenes, you won't find them here.

--Thea Davis


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