Jack Murray, Sheriff
by Janice Kay Johnson
(Harl. Super Rom. #913, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-70913-7
****
During the first half of Jack Murray, Sheriff, I was mesmerized. As much as I like humor in a book, this serious, intense story had me hooked. I didn't laugh, didn't grin and didn't put the story down. Wow! Too bad the heroine had to go squirrely on me during the second half.

As the story opens, Beth Sommers is cursing her ex-husband. He's three hours late bringing their daughters back from his weekend and is seemingly nonchalant about her worry. Their exchange develops into a confrontation, with the ex throwing a clay flower pot against Beth's front door.

Sheriff Jack Murray is driving by just in time to intercede. He hates domestic violence; his first partner was killed as he and Jack investigated a husband/wife argument. Something good does come out of the conflict. Jack becomes interested in Beth, who needs his friendship as well as his protection when her ex-husband begins to escalate his harassment tactics.

Jack senses that Beth is reluctant to address the inherent violence in his work, so he decides to take the high road, He'll sugarcoat what he does, hoping to give himself time to let her meet ‘the real man.' Jack's plan appears to be working until the night that he has to use force on the ex-husband, who's drunk and has hit Beth.

After Beth sees Jack subdue her husband, she does indeed turn squirrely. Her reaction just rubbed me the wrong way. Suddenly she's afraid of Jack, too. Will he turn vicious? Perhaps this is where I have a weakness as a reviewer. I've never been hit in anger and don't know if I would see shadows everywhere. My empathy just won't support her actions. I'm not sure how I'd react, but I'd hope that I'd have sense enough not to paint every man with that broad brush of accusation. It just seems like a cop-out, to condemn every man because you're afraid of one. Considering that the rest of the story deals with Beth's apprehension, to me it just seemed like a plot device, a way to continue the story.

Jack is a wonderfully complex character. An incident from his youth has colored his perceptions and has rocked the very foundations of his masculinity. He's been trying for years to atone, but discovers that with Beth, he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

Don't let yourself relax too much as you read this. Just when you think that Jack and Beth's problems are solved, another one crops up and takes all of their attention. I became almost skittish as a problem neared resolution. What would pop up next?

Jack Murray, Sheriff dissects a marriage gone wrong. There were insights into step-parenting, plus insights on beginning a new relationship when remnants of the old one still exist. Ms. Johnson also does a worthy job of weaving Jack and Beth's history into the present. There's also enough information for me to know that there are previous stories, stories which, if they're as good as this one, would be worth finding.

The pragmatism of this title fascinates me and opens up all sorts of possibilities. Instead of the ubiquitous, silly titles dealing with lust and savagery, now we can tell a bit more just from glancing at the title. I can see it now. Bubba Smith, Cowhand-Lance LaRue, Reformed Gigolo-Sadie Hawkins, Square Dance Instructor.

Jack Murray, Sheriff is refreshing in its honesty, its intensity and the depth used to explore second chances. Perhaps the second half will read as effortlessly for you as the first half did for me. If so, you're in for a real treat.

--Linda Mowery


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