Dangerous Moonlight by Tess Pendergrass
(Five Star Books, $25.95, PG) ISBN 0-7862-3705-8
***
Dangerous Moonlight is a fairly standard romantic suspense with few surprises other than the price. (Well, I confess to some puzzlement over its label as “Historical Fiction”; the story appears to be set in the 1990s at the earliest.) The book resembles a category romance in its length and plot structure, and at twenty-six dollars, there isn't anything to distinguish it from its paperback cousins.

Detective Daniel Parks is surprised and not a little annoyed with the pretty young woman standing at the police station counter twenty minutes before his shift is up, claiming to have possibly killed a man in the park. Seems that Destiny was walking her dog at night and overheard two men arguing in the park's gazebo. Shortly thereafter, she was accosted, and since she was carrying a baseball bat to hit balls for the pooch to chase, she clobbered the assailant with the bat and fled.

Daniel’s detective antennae start to vibrate when he and Destiny return to the park and find…nothing. No body, no blood, just… nothing. So, did she really get attacked? Or is she a kook? And does this have anything to do with a plane crash earlier that day that killed the county supervisor, who was opposed to a ShopMart superstore being built in their small coastal community of Hope Point? At first glance, there's no relationship.

Destiny isn’t telling Daniel the complete truth about her reasons for being in the park at night, most because she's rather embarrassed about it. But she apparently overheard something that made her a target, because suspicious things start happening, and they grow steadily more life-threatening. Meanwhile, Destiny and Daniel are fighting an attraction to each other.

Destiny is a likable, if somewhat ditzy, heroine whose characterization is inconsistent. Example: she's proud of having made a tidy home out of her small rental house, yet when she changes a light bulb and looks inside the glass globe of the fixture, her comment is, "Ick, there are dead things in it" and she replaces it without even cleaning it out. The image of Destiny as a strong, self-reliant woman with some smarts just took a serious hit, and for no reason. Her character vacillates between sensible and borderline foolhardy, and the climax is brought about in part by Destiny haring off without much concern for her personal safety, against Daniel's express wishes. This is an old chestnut of a plot device that does little to impress readers. For all that, Destiny comes across as vulnerable and rather sweet, and her growing feelings for Daniel are quite believable.

Daniel is charming as a somewhat jaded cop who finds a nearly ideal woman just when he least expects it. Their tentative romance was moving along nicely when up popped one of the most tired, not to mention implausible, plot contrivances in romantic suspense: the cop takes the victim/suspect home with him “for her safety”. Surely there must be some other way to get the lead characters in close proximity without resorting to this? Can anyone actually picture this happening? Even in a small town setting, it’s a huge conflict of interest.

The mystery of who is trying to kill Destiny is cleverly disguised; I really didn’t guess the villain. And Destiny’s dog, Fleur, is a scene-stealer. The pacing is brisk; events flow smoothly and you’ll keep turning the pages.

Dangerous Moonlight is an entertaining, if unoriginal, light suspense with a romance thread, or if you prefer, a contemporary romance with a suspense thread. Either way, it’s pricey for a slim volume of fairly large type. Checking your local library first might be your best bet.

--Cathy Sova


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