Sisters & Secrets
by Katherine Stone, Anne Stuart, Donna Julian & Jodie Larsen
(Onyx, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-451-40832-2
The prologue of Sisters and Secrets, which is actually a novel written in four parts, opens as the four young Smith sisters huddle together on Christmas Eve while the police are arranging the removal of their mother's body. She committed suicide using a Lady Smith gun. The story actually opens 20 years later, chronicling one sister at a time, as each one possesses and uses this gun in a way that changes her life.

Defying the revered tradition of Annie Oakley, each sister did in one fashion or another "get her man with the gun." Personally, I don't know enough about guns to know if a Lady Smith gun is a brand name or merely someone being cute with names. However, I do know this: I don't have three siblings, friends or even remote acquaintances who would treasure and carry around the very gun her parent had used to commit suicide.

Katherine Stone introduces "Lauren," the oldest Smith daughter who became a substitute mother to her sisters. Lauren is now a physician with almost clairvoyant powers in reading X-rays, angiograms, MRI's etc. Esteemed by her colleagues, she had been rejected and scorned by past lovers. Her most recent lover is still present in her hospital life and serves as a constant hurtful reminder that she is unable to sustain any relationship. Not sleeping, losing weight, and at a real psychological low point in her life, Lauren decides she has to get away.

Responding to a radio ad to visit Rhododendron Manor, a hideaway destination point on the Olympian Peninsula, Lauren arrives and immediately wanders off into the forest to look around, gun in hand. Zillionaire Peter Cain who donated the Manor and environs is on a mission for the police when he sees Lauren in the woods. Fearing she is about to use the gun on herself, he confronts her. She mistakes him for a ranger; he mistakes her for the Black Widow criminal he has agreed to help the police trap. By the end of the weekend all is resolved.

Anne Stuart brings us "Ardath," the second oldest sister to whom Lauren has sent the gun. It's November of the same year and Ardath rushes off to New Hampshire to kill Ethan Jameson, the man she holds responsible for her mother's suicide. She concluded this from reading one of Ethan's short stories that seemingly featured her mother. Upon arrival she meets a man, only a few years her senior, who appears unconcerned about her threats. His unconcern fuels her inability to pull the trigger, and a weekend standoff starts.

Donna Julian features "Dinah" for another weekend adventure. Only this time it is Christmas, the very anniversary of her mother's death. Successful attorney Dinah plans to spend the holiday as usual at her cabin retreat away from all revelers. This year her mood is overshadowed by death threats that all parties in the Jacobs divorce have received. One person has already been killed, but Dinah refuses police protection. Ardath has sent Dinah the gun and she now carries it for her own protection. On her way out of the courthouse, she is kidnapped by Evan Jacobs, the brother of the aggrieved party in the infamous divorce.

He tosses her into the car trunk and away they go to her retreat. Evan is impressed by her courage and undaunted spirit. Ardath is drawn to him against her will. Although this story is a weekend story as well, it is more believable than the first two because the characters are better drawn and actions are more credible.

Technically the best of the four parts is by Jodi Larsen. The book is concluded by the travails of "Yardley" who has now inherited the gun. She is a real estate agent and is carrying the gun because there have been several murders of realtors in her immediate area. Yardley and her roommate Kim each date a man that could even be the serial killer. Why would they do that? It's Larsen's excellent foreshadowing that accomplishes this, certainly not anything Kim or Yardley knows. This section greatly benefits by the fact that it doesn't take place in one weekend but over a long enough period of time for the characters at least to get to know each other.

In the epilogue, finally the gun is melted down into a puddle of silver. However, the gun emerges as a piece of jewelry for each sister inlaid with ivory from the handle. Can you just imagine the sequel to this?

--Thea Davis

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