As Gena Hale:

Paradise Island
Sun Valley

The Deepest Edge by Jessica Hall
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-20796-3
Catherine Coulter apparently is a big fan of Jessica Hall, the new incarnation of author Gena Hale, because a glowing cover quote from Ms. Coulter appears on every one of Hall/Hale’s books. I’m afraid I can’t share her enthusiasm for The Deepest Edge, which relies on stereotypical characters and behavior bordering on stupidity to advance the plot.

New Orleans art curator Valence St. Charles wants to meet noted collector T’ang Jian-Shan, who is rumored to have a fabulous collection of Japanese swords. Valence not only wants to secure them for a museum exhibit, but wants to examine them to prove her theory about their true maker. With her sleazy boss’s ultimatum hanging over her head, Valence heads for Paris to seek T’ang out.

T’ang won’t see Valence, though he catches a glimpse of her on his security monitors and is intrigued. Valence decides to sneak onto his property by hiding in the trunk of his limousine, and unwittingly leads an assassin to T’ang. Seems T’ang’s father is the head of a powerful Chinese tong, or criminal network, and when T’ang fled the tong, (say that three times, fast) his father vowed to hunt him down and kill him. The assassin hurls a knife, which Valence tries to block. Her hand is pierced. Now T’ang vows to protect the woman who saved his life and that of his small daughter.

Except Valence, now that she’s exactly where she wanted to be, decides she can’t possibly stay, even when T’ang explains that her life is in danger. So she sneaks out, crashes an art gallery opening looking for information, and generally acts like a too-trusting dimwit, to the point of accepting a ride back to her hotel from a total stranger, who of course is not what he seems. T’ang has to chase her down and kidnap her to bring her under his protection. Not that I much cared at this point. Heroines who refuse to listen to reason and need rescuing from their own mistakes aren’t all that interesting.

So the tong is after T’ang, and T’ang and Valence are after each other, but T’ang has vowed never to love again after the death of his wife (who was introduced in the book Sun Valley, part of a Gena Hale trilogy). The story zips from the French countryside to Paris to New Orleans, the ending is slapdash at best, not to mention chock-full of improbabilities, and the secondary characters all but scream “sequel!” There’s Raven, a former commando who was injured in the line of duty, had extensive plastic surgery, and is now the most famous model in the world. If only it were that easy. Raven finds time between modeling assignments to assist T’ang like a female James Bond. Then there’s General Kalen Grady, Raven’s former boss and lover, who needs T’ang to help him trap the tong in America.

There are others, but to be honest, I was distracted by the implausibilities in the storyline, not to mention the stock characterizations. Chinese women are portrayed as completely submissive, existing only to please their men no matter what the cost. T’ang is the typical brooding hero, and making him born in China, raised in Japan, and educated in England (so he can speak with a dashing Brit accent, I guess) doesn’t make him three-dimensional. The old “I’ll never love again” shtick doesn’t play any better with an Asian hero.

As for Valence, her background as a troubled teen who put herself through college is glossed over. That’s too bad, because she’s a heroine that would have been fun to know better. Instead, she races through the book, alternately doing foolhardy things and forging a maternal bond with T’ang’s little daughter.

In the end, The Deepest Edge was a superficial read, one that may entertain for a few hours, but will likely be quickly forgotten.

--Cathy Sova

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