Panther on the Prowl
by Nancy Morse
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1134, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-27204-9
*
This book shouldn’t be copyrighted; it should be patented as an effective non-pharmaceutical treatment for insomnia.

Rennie Hollander, poor little rich girl, is flying her Cessna through a thunderstorm. She can’t turn back to the Palm Beach airport, though. She must escape before her stepfather returns from Washington and discovers she’s ended her engagement. Rennie has just discovered that her land developer fiancé doesn’t love her - he just wants a valuable tract of real estate her senator stepdad controls.

She’s a lone woman, fleeing from the evil machinations of greedy men. When they find out she’s onto their dastardly plot, her very life must be in danger, right?

Well, not exactly. She isn’t crucial to the land development scheme at all. But, gosh, they’ll be annoyed.

Okay, so her plane gets hit by lighting (or something, it’s not clear) and goes down in the Everglades. With a “thud.” I’m not kidding; this is how the author describes the plane crash. This is also the sound of the book hitting the floor when it drops from my limp hand.

When I awaken, I discover that, in spite of being “pinned beneath the wreckage” of a plane that’s still intact, Rennie can release her seatbelt and fall into the swamp. She is unhurt - but blind. “In her blindness, she did not see the light on his helmet leading him through the dark swamp to the woman who had collapsed unconscious on the soft, wet ground.” Even if she wasn’t blind, how she could see a light if she was unconscious? I ponder this conundrum for a moment before dozing off.

When we open our eyes, Rennie is in the isolated cabin of John Panther. John is a Seminole Indian and biologist studying the swamp ecosystem. While she was unconscious, John had a Seminole healer examine her, and he determined that Rennie has swollen optic nerves. She may regain her sight, but then again she may not.

Ah, this must be the scary part. Stranded in the deepest Everglades, terrified of losing her sight, with no way to get the medical attention she so urgently needs.

Well, no. John will take her to a hospital any time she wants.

But she can’t go. Those annoyed guys will find her and… and… find her if she sets foot out of the swamp. She must persuade John to let her stay. Thinking fast, she tells him that she “wouldn’t feel comfortable stumbling around in the dark” at home.

I’ve got toothpicks holding my eyes open, and John’s got himself a houseguest.

He also has a deep, dark secret. A year and a half ago, he killed a female panther in self-defense. Afterward, its mate tracked him to his cabin and retaliated by killing his wife. John is wracked with guilt because he couldn’t protect her, on top of which he knows that henceforth any woman he loves will fall victim to the male panther’s cruel vendetta. He spends his nights searching the Everglades so he can kill it, too. The wildlife conservation folks probably wish John would just move to Canada.

Then, John is horrified to find that anthropologist Rennie is asking questions about Seminole legends. If she hears the grim tale of the Panther Warrior, especially in the preternaturally heightened state of awareness caused by her blindness, she might divine John’s shameful secret. (The shameful secret being that he couldn’t protect his woman, not that he’s out killing an endangered species because he thinks it’s got a grudge against him.)

If this theory isn’t idiotic enough, the likeliest story that Rennie’s razor intellect can come up with is that John is the Panther Warrior - man in the light, killer cat in the dark. Well, think about it. He disappears at night, he tenses up when she mentions panthers, he’s “surrounded by an air of mystery” and then there’s his name. What other explanation could there be?

Please. She was smarter when she was comatose. And that’s exactly where this contrived book with its tepid romance and complete lack of suspense left me every couple of pages. If you must read it, lie down so you don’t fall and hurt yourself when you nod off.

--Judi McKee


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