Back in Baby's Arms

Dreams Of You

In a Heartbeat

On The Way To Heaven

Second Time Around

Unforgivable by Tina Wainscott
(St. Martin’s, $6.50, PG/GV) ISBN 0-312-97908-8
Katie Malloy is a little girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Possum Holler, Georgia. Despite a myriad of townsfolk who scorn her for no reason, and a paranoid mother, the girl’s got spunk. So when the district attorney’s son chucks her pet kitten into a window, she runs and tattles to the sheriff. Naturally, no one believes her, except for Spooky Silas Koole, a teenage boy who is ostracized almost as much as Katie.

New guy in town, veterinarian Ben Ferguson saves Katie’s kitten and immediately becomes her hero. Things are starting to look up, when Katie comes home to discover that Mom has swallowed drain cleaner, and Silas Koole is being hauled out of town because his single father has died in a hunting accident.

18 years later, Katie is now Mrs. Ferguson. She is still an outcast, while Ben is universally loved. Katie has fallen into her marriage out of obligation. Ben was there for her after her mother died, and out of gratitude she finds herself trapped by a man who manipulates her at every turn. She has no money of her own, no car, no friends, no job (outside of working with Ben), no life, and a mountain of guilt.

Then her 27th birthday rolls around, the same age her mom was when she committed suicide, the nasty DA’s son is now a cop in town, and young women are disappearing from backwoods Georgia. When Silas Koole returns to town, everybody immediately assumes that he’s the bad guy - everybody except for Katie, who has never forgotten his kindness.

Silas has been following “The Ghost” for years because he’s psychic. When the hunter goes on the prowl, Silas literally shares a mental connection with him. Worse still, he tends to black out while sharing this connection, leaving him wondering if he’s the killer. When Silas picks up that “The Ghost” is thinking of harming Katie, he rushes back to his hometown to protect her.

Paranormal romance author Wainscott tries her hand in this debut romantic suspense with very mixed results. The biggest obstacle for this reader was that I didn’t remotely like any of the characters. The townspeople are hateful, Ben is manipulative and emotionally abusive, Silas is evasive, and while Katie isn’t spineless without cause - she still has this damsel in distress image that made me want to gag.

In fact, Katie is the sort of character who should never populate a romance novel. The last thing this woman needs is a romance. Katie is in a bad marriage, so bad in fact that she has no say or control over her own person. She has no idea who she is. She doesn’t need a hero - she needs to forge out on her own, find a good therapist, and learn who she really is.

The suspense doesn’t really help matters, because even though the author does throw some stumbling blocks in the way, I spotted the culprit right off. There’s also a secondary mystery involving the death of Katie’s mother, and her reasons behind her paranoia - this was even more obvious. As for the possibility that Silas could be the killer? Please. It’s apparent very early on that he’s the hero.

What the author does do well is atmosphere. There’s enough Southern Gothic scenery in this story to scare up a ton of skeletons. Wainscott’s descriptions of the landscape are vivid, successfully conjuring up many spooky images. Too bad such detail was wasted on this particular population of characters, and a mystery with not nearly enough twists to keep this reader remotely interested.

--Wendy Crutcher

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