Don't Tell

Have You Seen Her? By Karen Rose
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61281-2
Special Agent Steven Thatcher of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation heads an investigation into the gruesome murder of a high school cheerleader. The team has no leads, but when a second cheerleader disappears from her bed in the middle of the night, it appears there may be a serial killer at work.

Stevenís personal life is in shambles. His wife had been killed in an auto accident when she was leaving with another man; Steven has never told his three sons the truth about their motherís death. His youngest son is still suffering from the after-effects of being kidnapped by the culprit in an earlier case. (Steven was a strong secondary character in the authorís previous book, Donít Tell.) The behavior of Brad, his high school senior son, has deteriorated dramatically. Not long before heíd been looking at college scholarships; now heís in danger of not graduating. Steven wonders if he could be on drugs.

Dr. Jenna Marshall is Bradís chemistry teacher. When Brad fails a chemistry test, she contacts his father for a conference. Jennaís fiancť died of cancer two years earlier, and sheís still close to his family. Friends advise her to begin to move beyond the death, but sheís been unable to do so. When Jenna and Steven meet, they are both surprised by the strength of their attraction.

Jenna has failed another student, Rudy Lutz, in remedial science. With the failing grade Rudy Lutz is suspended from the football team. This action infuriates his father, and he pressures the principal to get to her change the grade. When Jenna refuses, she becomes the target of retaliatory pranks that begin to escalate in their threat level.

A Seattle policeman arrives in town. His conduct led to the charges against an accused killer of four high school girls to be thrown out of court on a technicality. He suspects that person is now murdering girls in North Carolina.

Neither Jenna nor Steven are looking to start a new relationship, but their attraction grows, then Stevenís family becomes involved further complicating things.

Jenna is heroine whoís easy to hate Ė sheís perfect in every way. Loyal, devoted, dedicated, generous, intelligent, gorgeous, passionate, good with children, and kind to dogs. What a paragon! She doesnít like her almost-sister-in-lawís Wednesday meatloaf, but that hardly counts as a fault.

Steven is one of those heroes whose first wife done him wrong so now he expects every other woman to be as faithless, jumping to unwarranted conclusions with the least provocation. Jenna speaks for a legion of romance readers when she tells him:

I know better than to love a man who canít trust me. Youíll never trust me. You say you will, then the next time Iím friends with a man youíll do it all again and weíll be in the same place we are now....

I wonít lie to you. I want you. But Iím smart enough to know I canít have everything I want. What I want is a man who trusts me and who I can depend on. I had that once. Iíll hold out for it again.

Does she stick to her principles and move on to another? Well, sheís the heroine; heís the hero. This is near the end of the story. You figure it out.

One thing Have You Seen Her? does well is a balance between the romance and the suspense. Unlike too many romantic suspense novels, neither overwhelms the other. The suspense subplot, however, measures up poorly against police procedural novels, and the whodunit conclusion is so implausible Ė can the police really be that oblivious? - that itís hard not to suspect the author was more interested in throwing a twist into the mix than in building on an already established foundation.

Although this is a sequel to the authorís earlier book, Have You Seen Her? stands well on its own. Reading the previous book isnít necessary before reading this one. For readers who enjoy romantic suspense, this could be a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap

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