All the Queen's Men

Blood Born

A Bouquet of Babies

Burn

Cry No More

Death Angel

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Dying to Please

A Game of Chance

Ice

Killing Time

Kiss Me While I Sleep

Mr Perfect

Now You See Her

Open Season

Strangers of the Night

To Die For

Under the Boardwalk

Up Close and Dangerous

Veil of Night

 
Prey
by Linda Howard
(Ballantine, $26.00, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-345-50692-7
*****
Have you ever chanted this? "Going on a bear hunt. I'm not afraid." After reading Prey, you may rethink that. This is not a book you want to take along on a camping trip.

Everyone knows what makes a 5-Heart book. I've said it over and over again. It's got to have it all. Plot, characters, writing. But here's the Number One Absolutely Most Important Thing: it's got to grab a reader from page one and not let go until the end. When it comes to romantic suspense, Prey is about as good as it gets.

I started reading Prey in the mid-afternoon and then a few hours later I was asked, "What's for dinner?"

"Dinner?" At this point in Prey, the characters - and by extension, I - were what's for dinner. "Dinner?"

When I've forgotten there's life outside a book's pages and I'm oblivious to the time, well, that's a 5-Heart book.

Angie Powell is a wilderness guide in Montana. She'd taken over the business after her father died, but when Dare Callahan returned from his Army service and established his own guide business, hers went into a steep decline. Now she's faced facts; she's signed a contract to sell the property. It's heartbreaking, but she knows she can start over somewhere else. She's fought the good fight; she's made every cut possible; it's over.

Angie has one last commission. She's guiding a former client and his business associate on a bear hunt, but the November weather is bringing the season - and her business - to an end. With good reason, Angie has always been fearful of bears.

Dare Callahan has been attracted to Angie Powell from first sight, but she's turned him down the two times he's asked her out. Now he's had a confrontation with her in the street. He hears she's just put her property up for sale. In his talk with the realtor, he learns she's taking two men on a bear hunt. The realtor, Harlan, is uncomfortable with her arrangements and persuades Dare that he needs to be in position should Angie need his help.

Chad Krugman has carefully planned this trip. He's been skimming funds from a money-laundering operation and has reason to believe his scheme has been discovered. He knows this is his chance to kill his associate Mitchell Davis and disappear without a trace. Davis is associated with some mighty bad people; if Chad's plans don't work out, he's as good as dead.

Meanwhile, there's a bear in the area where they're all heading who's gotten a taste for humans.

But that's not all that can go wrong. Soon Angie and Dare will be fleeing for their lives, trapped in the mountains by a violent storm, hunted by man and beast.

The romance between Angie and Dare takes second place to the suspense aspect of the plot. Linda Howard writes some of the hottest romance fiction today, but this book is heavy on the suspense, light on the romance. Prey is a plot-driven story which means that character development doesn't count for all that much. But if there's a really good plot, a lot of character development flaws can be easily forgiven.

And there are a few character development issues in Prey. The circumstances surrounding Angie's first marriage are more plot-convenience than convincing. Dare is a wounded Army vet with some physical effects but not much more. Chad is an accountant who's taken the money and run with no explanation why he'd done it. For no reasons given, Davis has agreed to going on this hunting trip with a subordinate he's begun to believe has been engaging in some accounting hanky-panky. The bear's the only one whose motivation is unquestioned: human flesh tastes good and he needs to eat.

Good guys. Bad guys. Hungry bear. Out in the wilderness. That's enough for a really gripping story, and Prey delivers.

--Lesley Dunlap


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