Relative Strangers

Found Wanting by Joyce Lamb
(Five Star, $26.95, V) ISBN 1-59414-180-0
With her third book for small press Five Star, Joyce Lamb has written the romance equivalent to a Hollywood action film; complete with a damsel in distress who kicks butt, a private investigator who switches sides mid-stream and a teenage boy caught in the middle.

Fifteen years ago Alaina Chancellor took her infant son and ran. Jonahís father, Layton Keller, is married to Alainaís sister and is not a nice fellow. Itís been a hard row, with Alaina always trying to stay one step ahead of Layton. He has managed to catch up with her a few times, and their ensuing altercations only strengthened her resolve to protect her son.

Layton has since hired a new private detective, Mitch Kane, to find his son. Mitch finds Alaina and Jonah, but something doesnít ring true to him. So instead of notifying Layton that theyíve been found, he lurks around for a few weeks to keep an eye on them. Then the FBI comes calling at Alainaís place of work and the whole thing blows up.

Alaina runs, and in the process gets seriously injured. On top of that, Laytonís hired goons grab her son. Desperate to get her son back, she begins to move heaven and earth to track him down. Unfortunately she still has Mitch Kane dogging her steps, and he doesnít exactly believe her story that Layton wants her dead. Of course, when a hit man shows up and almost takes them both out, Mitch begins to reevaluate his loyalties.

For readers who like non-stop action in their fiction, Found Wanting will certainly deliver. Something is literally happening in every chapter. There is absolutely no down time, and it makes for exciting reading. Lamb keeps things humming at a breakneck pace.

Alaina is a tough heroine. Sure she kidnapped her son and has been running for fifteen years, but our girl has very valid reasons. She sees herself with no other choice. And when Layton and his goons threaten her sonís life, as well as her own, sheís a fierce protector. She kicks major butt over the course of the story, despite having a dislocated shoulder throughout most of the action scenes.

Mitch is a nice guy, if a bit misguided. Layton knows just the buttons to push, and succeeds in turning Mitch against Alaina before they even meet. Itís to our guyís credit that when things donít start adding up that he begins to question. He doesnít have blind faith in Layton Keller, so when the FBI and goons show up to muck up the works he starts to listen to the woman he was hired to find.

With the non-stop speed of the action, the romance here is a little lacking. With little down time, there isnít much of an opportunity for Mitch and Alaina to get to know each other. Theyíre too busy dealing with goons wanting to kill them, and tracking down the missing Jonah to question their burgeoning feelings. The author must have realized this at some point, because the later chapters do slow up some. It gives the characters a chance to really talk for the first time, and take their relationship to the next level.

Readers who like their romantic suspense with heavier suspense elements should find a lot to like in Lambís latest. The action is almost frantic in nature, and the author throws in a lovely twist at the end that ties Laytonís motives up in a nice conclusive package. If Lamb hasnít toyed with the idea of trying her hand at a screenplay, she may want to consider it. If youíre a sucker for action movies where the girl actually gets to kick some butt, you canít do much better than Found Wanting.

--Wendy Crutcher

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