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Now You See Her by Linda Howard
(Pocket, $23, PG-13) ISBN #0-671-56882-5
****
I'm always a bit skeptical when big-name romance authors begin writing other types of fiction. No matter how hard they try, writers like Sandra Brown and Catherine Coulter seem to have a difficult time trying to shake off the "romance" label from their work even when they're penning mysteries or thrillers. And it's no wonder. Even as they attract a wider audience they don't want to alienate their romance fans, so they often toss in romances to their "mainstream" efforts. But more often than not, the love stories feel forced and contrived in what would otherwise be a very satisfying read. Sandra Brown's recent novel Fat Tuesday is a shining example of a book that would have read just as well if the romance had been excised from the story.

To her credit, Linda Howard avoids that trap in her latest effort Now You See Her. While this book definitely belongs in suspense section of the bookstore, the love story is never second rate and becomes a key plot element in this page-turner.

Paris Sweeney is a talented New York artist who is a bit on the eccentric side. Raised by unconventional "flower children" parents who never seemed to grow up, Sweeney (as she prefers to be called) is somewhat of a recluse, finding stability and contentment in creating lovely landscapes and portraits that are much in demand on the Manhattan art scene.

Then things begin to get a little wacky for Sweeney. She starts seeing the ghosts of people she knows are dead. She finds she can guess all the questions on Jeopardy before the answers are even given, her plants are in full bloom no matter what the season, and, best of all, she never seems to have a problem with traffic jams or finding a parking spot in New York City. But most of all, she has lush, vivid dreams in colors that are changing the way she paints her bucolic landscapes are giving way to a more vibrant, intense style that has her worried she might be losing her talent.

Sweeney deals with her "clairvoyance" the same way she's always dealt with life's craziness she blocks out the world by withdrawing more closely into her own protective cocoon, shunning nearly all social events, and venturing out only occasionally to bring new works to the fashionable gallery owned by her friend Candra Worth.

But you can't hide forever as Sweeney soon discovers. Her disturbing dreams begin to manifest in her artwork and after a late-night painting session that she can't even recall, she wakes up to discover she's painted the disturbing image of a murder scene with details only the killer would know.

The hero is Candra's estranged husband millionaire businessman Richard Worth. He's not only gorgeous, he's honorable and has loads of integrity and Linda Howard deserves credit for creating a most delicious tension between Sweeney and Richard without resorting to overly graphic sex.

To reveal much more would take away from the story. Suspense fans will spot the murderer a mile away and the plot is pretty predictable. Nonetheless, Linda Howard has created an engaging thriller that kept me reading far past my bedtime.

In many ways, this book is less intense than previous Linda Howard books, and thankfully there is less gratuitous sex and violence. Still, the characters are well-drawn, the story is compelling and while I might wait until it came out in paperback to avoid the $23 hardcover price, it's still a fun read that will keep you entertained for many hours. And really, what more can one ask of a book!

--Leslie McClain


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