The Listener

Marriage to a Stranger

The Negotiator


The Target by Kay David
(Harl. Super. #1131, $5.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-71131-X
This book got out of the starting gate quickly and with impressive power. Unfortunately, it stumbled over its own premise and limped to the finish line.

Hannah Crosby and Quinn McNichol have been lovers for two and a half years, since Hannah joined the federal bomb squad of which Quinn is a senior member. They’re crazy about each other but, at 32, Hannah wants to get married and start a family. Quinn refuses to consider it because the job is too dangerous - but he also refuses to consider the possibility of either of them quitting the jobs they love and do so well. They begin to fight about it constantly.

When the team - the Explosives and Incendiary Team, or EXIT - is called to defuse a device found at a local daycare center, they believe they are dealing with the serial bomber known as Mr. Rogers. Quinn enters the building to bring out two small children, the bomb goes off, and he is critically injured.

Hannah, who was considering leaving Quinn, stays by his side in the hospital. As it becomes apparent that Quinn will live, but less clear if he will recover the complete strength and mobility he needs to go back to EXIT, Quinn starts to feel sorry for himself. What if he can’t do the job any more? Can he sit at home every day and watch Hannah go off alone to face the excitement and challenges?

But Quinn won’t get the chance to find out. When Quinn is well out of danger, Hannah tells him she’s leaving - she needs to find someone who wants permanency and children with her. Quinn goes to his small hometown in Louisiana to complete his recovery, he hopes, and Hannah returns to the bomb squad.

Nine months later, instead of getting on with her love life, Hannah is obsessed with finding the daycare bomber. When another apparent Mr. Rogers bombing occurs, Hannah goes to investigate. She finds some disquieting anomalies. Quinn, who has been surreptitiously following the Mr. Rogers investigation even though he’s on leave, is also troubled by the inconsistencies and asks Hannah to come and discuss the case.

This book has a strong and somewhat unusual beginning - the characters are already passionately involved, then separate when they can’t reconcile their personal goals. The author did a good job of establishing their deep feelings for each other, making the pain of their split feel real and uncontrived. I was involved with Quinn and Hannah immediately.

Then, at about the halfway mark in the book - the point at which Quinn and Hannah find themselves working together again - the book started to lose momentum. Partly, this is because the relationship doesn’t go anywhere new. Instead figuring out how to resolve their differences, Quinn and Hannah climb on a pendulum. They love each other. Nothing’s changed. They want each other. But nothing’s changed.

Hannah, in particular, swings back and forth, and any forward motion takes place in such small increments as to be virtually unnoticeable. Quinn, in fact, regresses. He’s forced to face the possibility that he’ll never return to the bomb squad. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to give the woman he loves the life she wants, he takes another little dip in the ‘poor me’ pool - what good is he to anyone if he’s permanently disabled? The reader must face the sad fact that, in spite of his love for Hannah, Quinn’s thoughts dwell pretty much on Quinn.

The Mr. Rogers serial bombing case gears up in an attempt to disguise the fact that the romance is going nowhere, with mixed success. Ms. David does a good job of keeping the reader guessing about who the culprit or culprits may be, but the psychology is a bit superficial so the attempts to show the motivations behind the bombings fall unconvincingly flat.

I also couldn’t help wondering if the author really thought about how surreal an emergency scene would look with a bunch of people walking around wearing EXIT signs on their backs.

Kay David has written some excellent books and this started out to be one of them. I was just sorry it didn’t end that way.

-- Judi McKee

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