The House at Briar Lake

Operation: Katie by Roxanne Rustand
(Harl. Superromance #1064, $4.50, PG-!3) ISBN 0-373-71064-X
I sure hope our federal law enforcement agencies are not as incompetent as they are portrayed in Operation:Katie. If they are, we are in big trouble and might as well just turn the country over to the crooks and the terrorists. Now, maybe most readers don’t care if the suspense in a romantic suspense story doesn’t make sense. Maybe all they care about is that the author has provided a nice reunion story. But this reader’s enjoyment of a book is greatly lessened when she keeps saying, “Huh?” as not the heroine but the hero proves to be “too stupid to live.”

Our hero is Zach Forrester, a special agent for the DEA. One day his long estranged sister appears on his Dallas doorstep and hands over her three year old daughter, Katie, saying that “she’s in some trouble” and then disappears. Two days later, Zach opens his refrigerator door to get an unhappy Katie some milk and the refrigerator explodes. Saved from certain death by the heavy door, Zach realizes before he passes out that Katie has disappeared.

When he comes to, Zach discovers that Katie had been snatched, apparently by the guy who set the bomb but fortunately, she had been found at a truck stop. He also discovers that he is the target of “El Cazador” - the Hunter. Clearly some scumbag he put in jail has decided to get revenge. Does Zach take Katie to a safe house where his colleagues can protect them? No, he starts running and hiding, but everywhere he goes, “El Cazador” follows. So he decides to really hide out, to go somewhere where no one can trace him. He decides to go back to Fossil Hill, Colorado, where he spent his senior year before he and his mom had to get out of town fast.

Of course, he left a girl behind when he split: Dana. And of course he just happens to rent a small house right next to where Dana now lives. Dana had been devastated when Zach had disappeared the day after the prom. She had loved him deeply despite his “bad boy” reputation. But she had gotten on with her life: becoming a veterinarian and returning home to marry a widowed rancher and mother his two young children. But Ken had been killed in a traffic accident and now Dana is struggling to hold on to the Hathaway ranch and to raise the kids. She hasn’t had much time to think about Zach Forrester, but now he’s back.

This is an amazingly predictable story. Katie is traumatized and the attention and care of Dana and her children help her feel better. Zach had to leave town to protect his mother and never contacted Dana because he didn’t feel worthy. But he never forgot his first love. Dana feels an immediate attraction to the man the boy she loved has become, but she can’t trust him, can she? Katie likes the animals at the Hathaway ranch. Dana breaks up with her respectable suitor. And so forth.

However, predictability is not necessarily a problem in a romance. The reunion of Zach and Dana is nicely enough done. What earns Operation:Katie its “Think Twice” rating is the implausible nature of the suspense plot. Bad enough that Zach would head off on his own to try to hide. More significantly, he never informs local law enforcement that he is being stalked by a killer nor does he tell anyone the truth about why he keeps warning them to be particularly careful. And when something suspicious happens, he doesn’t take any steps to enlist people who might be able to help him. Like I said above, stupid. And I don’t appreciate stupid heroes.

If the implausibility of the suspense plot doesn’t bother you and if you like reunion stories, you might find Operation:Katie more enjoyable than I did. I sure hope that the author didn’t do any research about law enforcement procedures. I’d hate to think that those who are out there protecting us are this clueless.

--Jean Mason

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