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Home at Last by Katherine Stone
(Warner, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-446-60677-4
****
Home at Last is something of a departure for Katherine Stone. Traditionally her books have been large, complex stories with multiple romances. Her latest release is much tighter, focusing solely on the relationship between the hero and the heroine and taking place primarily over a short span of time. It is also more definitely a work of romantic suspense. Since it kept me up till 2:30 last night, the suspense must have worked.

Lucas Hunter is a lieutenant in the New York Police Department with a very special talent. He is able to get into the minds of criminals which has made him invaluable as a hostage negotiator. In fact, as the book opens, he has just returned from Australia where his actions had defused a very dangerous situation. He arrives home only to be thrust into another mess. A man is holding eight sick little girls hostage in the wing of a hospital. He has a grenade and is threatening to set it off.

But that is not all that awaits Lucas. A serial killer is on the loose and he is killing women who have some connection with Lucas Hunter. As he works to save the girls, he becomes aware that evil is at work, that the killer has struck again.

Galen Chandler is the very new anchorwoman on one of New York's most popular stations. Galen had been a reporter on a court TV network. Her transition both to an anchor position and to New York had not been smooth. Indeed, she has become the favorite target of the city's most powerful and ruthless gossip monger.

As the hostage situation escalates, Galen comes to Lucas with an important piece of information. She had visited the hospital floor and knows that one of the girls is the daughter of a famous tycoon. Lucas believes that Galen, like most news reporters, will not hesitate to broadcast this dangerous piece of information. So he promises her an interview, a promise he has no intention of keeping.

But something about Galen - her unconventional clothes, perhaps or her aura of fragility - convinces Lucas to talk to her. And he discovers that she will not in fact broadcast any information that might be harmful (which probably helps explain why she is not a great success as a news reader.)

This brief encounter might have ended their relationship, but then the killer zeros in on Galen. She will be his conduit of information, his mouthpiece (and perhaps his victim.) Since Lucas needs to be privy to the murderer's thoughts and since Galen needs protection, he moves her into his apartment and listens in on the horrifying, sick conversations the murderer forces on his target. Trust me, they are pretty sick.

The forced association brings Galen and Lucas closer together and begins to break down the barriers that each has constructed against love. And they are sure high barriers. Each has dreadful personal histories and Lucas has the additional burden of his unwelcome but invaluable ability to enter into the minds of criminals, to think like them. These were characters I cared about and rooted for. They deserved their happy ending.

Although Home at Last does not have the sprawling nature of most of Stone's novels, it still has considerable complexity in its plotting and characterization. It also has Stone's patented use of medical matters to further the story. The mystery managed to keep me guessing, which is not always the case in romantic suspense novels.

Finally, there is Stone's writing. I spent some time tonight trying to figure out what it is about her style that is so singular that I actually hear her voice. I truly believe that I could identify Stone's writing if I read any chapter in any of her books. I can say this about very few authors. And darned if I can figure out why. I think there is a certain starkness and clarity in her prose, a certain rhythm, that I just hear. Whatever it is, I like it.

Home at Last certainly passed my "put down" test. I didn't want to put it down and I didn't.

--Jean Mason


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