Every so often I read a book where the chemistry between two of the characters is so strong that you are sure from their first encounter that they are destined to go through life together. Their dialogue sparkles, and they energize every page they appear on. Happily for Rachel Lee’s Under Suspicion, her lovers also connect strongly even though they don’t have quite as much zing as her two detectives.
The suspense in Ms. Lee’s romantic suspense novel comes from a theft at a local museum and a related murder. Anna Lundgren is the curator of a Tampa museum, and she has just put together a splashy exhibit of Mayan artifacts, an exhibit that could make or break her career. One of the artifacts, a ceremonial dagger with a jaguar-headed handle, supposedly comes with a curse that says that “trespassers and those who handled the dagger (would) suffer the wrath of the jaguar god into the second generation.”
The myth was proven true, in many people’s minds, when - four days after the dagger was first moved from its original site in the Yucatan - an earthquake broke a pipeline that Anna’s father had been working on. The resulting explosion and fire killed nearly three thousand people, including her father.
One particular individual believes that the only way to short-circuit the curse’s visitation on the second generation is to offer a living heart to the jaguar god…Anna’s living heart. His first step toward achieving that goal is to steal the dagger on the opening night of the exhibit. Despite all the security precautions surrounding the exhibit and especially the dagger, he is successful, and Anna comes to work the following morning to find the most important artifact missing. The museum’s call to the Tampa Police Department brings Detective Clarence Tebbins to the scene.
In the meantime, across the state, in St. Petersburg, Gil Garcia is investigating the death of a graduate student and part-time museum guard. Eddy Malacek apparently died of a drug overdose, but Gil isn’t convinced. Eddy was left-handed, but he injected himself in his left arm, using his right hand. While Gil is puzzling over the implications of that, he gets a call from Detective Tebbins, wanting to talk to Malacek. They both realize that Malacek’s death is tied into the theft, and they agree to cooperate.
Thus a lively partnership is set in motion. Tebbins is a true eccentric, intelligent, intellectual, and self-satisfied. Gil Garcia is much more the conventional, street-smart cop, but he too is no dummy. Their interactions, as they start working together, result in the most entertaining dialogue I have read in a long time. So entertaining is their relationship that it threatened to overshadow Ms. Lee’s heroine. It wasn’t until Anna Lundgren’s twin sister arrived on the scene that I felt that Anna assumed as much importance in the story as Clarence Tebbins, aka Hercule Poirot.
Gil and Anna feel an immediate attraction, although Gil’s professional involvement in an investigation where Anna is a suspect is a barrier to their romance. However, while their romance is believable and both characters are engaging, I never felt that the conclusion of their romance was in doubt. Instead, the strength of Under Suspicion lies in its suspense rather than its romance.
Ms. Lee cranks up the tension using the rather clichéd convention of showing events from Anna’s stalker’s point of view without revealing who he is. A cliché, but it works. However, I was happy to find that Ms. Lee never resorted to the level of graphic detail that makes some romantic suspense novels unsettling. Everyone’s tolerance for violence and potential violence is individual but, for myself, I found that Ms. Lee struck the perfect balance…and if she had not…Clarence Tebbins alone would have made Under Suspicion well worth reading.
-- Nancy J. Silberstein