Amber Beach

Autumn Lover

Beautiful Dreamer

Desert Rain

Forget Me Not

Jade Island

Midnight at Ruby Bayou

Pearl Cove

To the Ends of the Earth

Where The Heart Is

Winter Fire

Moving Target by Elizabeth Lowell
(Wm. Morrow, $24.00, PG) ISBN 0-06-019875-3
Extremely readable, although perhaps not quite what you might expect, Moving Target takes characters who began life in her superb medieval trilogy (Forbidden, Untamed, and Enchanted) and places their descendents in the modern world of her recent contemporary series about the Donovan family.

Following the murder of her enigmatic grandmother, whom she called “G’mom,” Serena Charters is surprised to inherit a legacy that has been passed down in an unbroken female line for over a thousand years. G’mom, who was burned to death when an arsonist torched her isolated home, left her granddaughter an extraordinary woven scarf and four sheets from an illuminated manuscript. Both have an extremely powerful effect on Serena. The manuscript, in particular, contains images that she thought only existed in her dreams.

G’mom also left Serena a cryptic note suggesting that the wonderfully decorated pages were part of a complete book that had been lost and which G’mom was trying to recover. If Serena decides to take up the quest, her life will almost certainly be in danger.

Needing to know more about the apparently valuable pages she now owns, Serena directs inquiries to two very different sources, the House of Warrick, a distinguished auction house specializing in ancient manuscripts, and Erik North, an independent expert.

The House of Warrick claims the pages are forgeries, but makes insistent attempts to purchase them from Serena, ostensibly to take them off the market. Erik, on the other hand, immediately recognizes them as pages from the Book of the Learned, a manuscript with which he has been obsessed almost all his life. He quickly finds that obsession expanding to include Serena.

G’mom’s warnings prove to be well founded - apparently people connected with the Book of the Learned are being killed. Determined to recover the ancient book, and not knowing whom to trust, Serena soon finds herself in grave peril.

This is, in many respects, vintage Lowell. The book takes place inside a rarified and obsessive world that few of us will ever see. Whether it’s gems, textiles or illustrated manuscripts, it always feels absolutely real to me and I am always fascinated.

Moving Target is inhabited by smart people, vividly realized and completely true to their characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Serena and Erik are strong, likable and attractive, and have believable weaknesses. They clearly complete each other and, even without the mysterious suggestions of a past life together, I could understand why they’d be drawn to one another. There’s also a cast of engaging, fully fleshed secondary characters contributing color and sparkle as well as information.

So, why did it not grip me completely? Elizabeth Lowell is an excellent storyteller, but I thought this book fell between two worlds, never managing to quite achieve either the compelling pace of the Donovan books or the powerful sensuality of the medievals.

Certainly, the romance was in the background; Serena and Erik don’t meet until the end of chapter 13. They’re fairly short chapters but for someone like me, who reads romantic suspense for the romance and not the suspense, this felt like a really long wait. Then, although there was simmer and steam, I didn’t think the energy of the relationship ever quite came up to a full boil.

With regard to the suspense, I can’t help thinking that the story was weighed down by its complexity. It’s difficult to discuss without giving too much away, but, in spite of how well they were drawn, there were a lot of characters whose involvement had to be explained and justified. In addition, Erik’s motives were very intricate and, while I applaud the effort to make him multi-dimensional, maybe it was just too much bulk for the story to carry and still move swiftly. I’m not certain it was all completely essential.

Having said that, I enjoyed this book - for the setting, for the characterizations and for the pleasure of reading Ms. Lowell’s excellent prose. If it fell just a little short for me perhaps that’s because the author has set herself such a very high standard.

--Judi McKee

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