Into the Badlands by Caron Todd
(Harl. Super. #1053, $4.99, PG) 0-373-71053-4
***
Dinosaur digs, missing artifacts, a past one-sided attraction, an Indiana Jones-style hero, and a proficient, but prickly heroine are all ingredients for a fascinating romance with elements of suspense. Into the Badlands starts out on this high note. Too bad that toward the end it fades a bit.

Dr. Susannah Robb is a paleontologist at a Canadian museum in the Badlands of Alberta. The museum sponsors a number of dinosaur digs in the area. Susannah oversees one of the digs that also includes a summer camp for kids. She has written a number of scholarly articles and is working on another. When the museum director suddenly decides to retire, she becomes one of the final candidates for the job.

When the museum board announces the choice for the director, it is a double disappointment for Susannah. Not only does she not get the position, the man who does get it is someone from her past. Alexander Blake is an adventurous scientist and is popular with the media. He is Susannah’s opposite in many ways. She was very attracted him years earlier when he was her supervisor on her first dig. At the end of that dig, his evaluation of her as too timid crushed her. Since then, she has spent most of her time trying to disprove his evaluation and has gained a strong reputation in the field. She can't understand why the board gave the job to him since he seldom stays very long in one place.

Dr. Alexander Blake is the board's choice for a very specific reason. Artifacts are missing from the museum, but the board does not know who is taking them. One of the board members is aware that Alex had helped uncover the theft of some artifacts at another location. Since the thefts could be an inside job, the board decides to hire Dr. Blake as the museum director and give him the secret task of finding the culprit or culprits.

The prickly Dr. Robb intrigues Alex. He enjoys her witty verbal zings and is surprised to find himself feeling protective of her. Susannah is appalled that his first sight of her is when she is injured and not at her best. He doesn't recognize her and that only makes things worse. The tug and pull between them is made more difficult by the fact that while she wants to stay as far away as possible from him, he needs to get to know each of the staff to evaluate if any of them is a thief.

The interplay between Alex and Susannah is sharp and bright. The reaction of each of them to their mutual attraction rings true to the personalities described. Susannah did keep trying to find flaws in Alex a little too long, despite the evidence of his more mature personality.

The concern that pulled this book from a four heart to a three heart is that as the relationship continues to develop, the suspense over the missing artifacts becomes less realistic. For example, much larger artifacts are taken and a staff member is injured, but the precautions taken do not seem adequate to the situation. The ending also seems somewhat rushed.

The author has a lot of knowledge about paleontology, and does a good job of incorporating the information into the story. Both the boredom of a dig and the excitement of a find are portrayed. Several of the secondary characters are well developed.

Anyone interested in dinosaur digs will probably enjoy Into the Badlands. Finding an Indiana Jones type wouldn't be bad either.

--B. Kathy Leitle


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