Mary's Child by Terese Ramin
(Silh. Int. Mom # 881, $4.25, PG) ISBN 0-373-07881-1
***
A sheriff's deputy from a small Michigan town agrees to act as surrogate mother for her best friend/partner and his wife when it becomes clear that the wife cannot carry a child. The day of the first attempt to implant an embryo the wife, Mary, is murdered, apparently in a car-jacking gone wrong. After the funeral, the husband Joe quits his job in the sheriff's office and heads out to find his wife's killer. A year later he returns to town to discover that the procedure unexpectedly succeeded on the first try and he is the father of a 3 month old daughter.

Thus begins Terese Ramin's most recent Silhouette Intimate Romance. The back blurb suggests that the book will center on Joe's efforts to convince Hallie that he and she should get married and provide little Maura with an intact family. But this is not really what the book is about. In fact, Joe is instantly anxious to get Hallie between the sheets and Hallie develops a quick case of lust for her old pal. They are in bed before the night is out.

Usually I steer away from books that move the hero and heroine so quickly into bed, but I supposed, in this case, it is more acceptable. After all, Joe and Hallie were childhood and teenage friends. They actually lost their virginities to each other. And they had been partners for years before Joe quit the force. Clearly, there was a lot of latent attraction there. It just happened that they married other people. (Hallie is divorced with two sons who think of Joe as an uncle.)

Still, the instant involvement pretty much undercuts the issue of how they will deal with their conflicting claims to the baby (although Ramin occasionally threw in a bit of angst about the issue that seemed somewhat forced). So the plot of Mary's Child centers on discovering who murdered Mary. To pursue the investigation, Joe has to tell Hallie the dark secrets that he has discovered about the wife he loved. His reluctance to "come clean" provides some small amount of tension between the two, but it doesn't impact much on their relationship. So, the story moves away from the relationship to the mystery.

Discovering the murderer becomes even more pressing when Joe finds that he/she is stalking Hallie and her kids. Could she be a target too? And what about the message, "Welcome home, murderer." What does that mean?

Actually, the essence of the mystery is pretty clever. It all ties back to Mary's secrets and Joe's past. Unfortunately, Ramin introduces us readers to the murderer with all the subtlety of the Three Stooges. I felt like tapping Joe on the shoulder and saying, "Dummy, there's your murderer." But it takes Joe and Hallie several more chapters to put two and two together. And this, among other things, makes Mary's Baby simply an acceptable romance.

I do feel that if an author is going to plot a mystery, then she has to maintain at least an element of suspense throughout the story. But if you like novels about two old friends finally realizing that they are meant for each other and don't mind knowing "who dunnit" all to early, then you might enjoy Mary's Child.

--Jean Mason


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