Her Sister’s Keeper
by Julia Penney
(Harl. Super. #1330, $5.50, G) ISBN 0373-71330-4
**
Bad suspense movies always have the heroine rushing into danger without thinking…like going in the basement when she hears a noise and the entire audience can guess that the bad guy is there. Melodramatic stories often involve radical changes in personalities when something occurs to the heroine, often causing the audience to question if such a change would have really happened so quickly. These two genres have nothing on Her Sister’s Keeper.

Melanie Harris was jilted at the altar when her sister Ariel announced just before the ceremony that she was pregnant with Melanie’s soon-to-be-husband’s baby. Melanie was devastated and went into a yearlong tailspin of depression. Her best friend Stephanie finally convinced her she needed to go see a shrink and start to make amends with her sister and her new niece.

Dr. Kent Mattson, police forensic psychologist and part time therapist, had been having a rough day. He was working on the profile of a suspect in the murder of a young woman who was connected to the Hollywood community, and now he has to focus on rich people needing a psychologist just to supplement his income. His need for money is to maintain his family ranch in the mountains outside LA.

Melanie intrigues him from the beginning. She is obviously in distress and spends the half hour not talking to him. But he dismisses her when he gets a call from his boss saying they have another body. He ends up hitching a ride from Melanie to the Beverly Hills Regency when he discovered his car has been stolen. The murdered woman is Stephanie and Melanie is now even more of a wreck. Kent takes her home, only to discover that her cat is dead from an apparent poisoning, just like the two women. When Melanie’s sister and baby come up missing, things start getting real interesting. Thus begins the search for the killer, motive and trying to determine if Melanie is at risk or a suspect.

The character of Melanie goes from being profoundly depressed to recognizing she must be strong to find her sister. She recovers from her depression overnight. Melanie fights the police when she discovers they are looking at her boss and friend, director Victor Korchin and his wife Anatanyia. Melanie is self-centered in her thinking and self-pitying when she thinks about her lack of caring for her sister and niece since the wedding fiasco. Then she transforms herself into a strong woman ready to fight the world to save her sister, and she jumps into danger without really thinking things through. Of course, her excuse is that she and Kent had argued, putting him on the same untrustworthy plane as her snake of an ex-fiancé. Melanie’s thinking is often flawed, making it difficult to see what Kent sees in her and making it difficult to see why the reader would care what happens to her.

Kent is also a bit tortured. Thugs looking for drugs killed his first wife, and of course he blames himself because she was out late trying to get to an event he had asked her to attend. If he had not asked her, she would have been home safe and sound. Kent, though, has worked through this for the most part. He is committed to his ranch and three young boys he is trying to adopt. His housekeeper is a gem and through the ranch, Kent’s caring nature comes across, making him more than just a detective. The biggest problem he is having now is keeping his professional distance from Melanie in the middle of a police investigation of which she may be an integral part…and a murderer to boot.

The suspense is actually well-written and it is fun to try to figure out who is killing who, and why. The actual resolution is a bit predictable but maintained my interest all the same. But since the suspense is intricately connected to the romance, the story seems a bit far-fetched and was difficult to stay engaged in. Ariel, when introduced, seemed like nothing but a shrew, making one wonder why Melanie wanted to rebuild a relationship with her.

Her Sister’s Keeper has some elements of good suspense and Kent is a hero that deserved a better heroine. But with the character of Melanie and the lack of believable reactions, this tale is best left untouched.

--Shirley Lyons


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