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Bad Karma by Theresa Weir
(Harper, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-101296-3
I noticed as I was browsing through my local Border’s that Bad Karma was shelved in both the Romance and the Suspense sections. This seems to me an apt decision on the store’s part, not merely because it might sell more books. Indeed, Weir’s new release strikes me as much stronger on the suspense than it is on the romance.

Cleo Tyler is one of the most “wounded” heroines I’ve come across in contemporary romances lately. Her mother is a self-centered, social climbing, manipulative piece of work. Her fiancé was killed in a automobile accident which left Cleo battered and broken and caused her to lose their child. After his death, she retreated from reality, using self-hypnosis to try to regain contact with him. She has a horror of anything orange, suffers from an eating disorder, has recurring nightmares, and is being treated for anxiety attacks. Oh, and she has developed psychic abilities which she very much wishes she didn’t possess.

Broke and pretty desperate, Cleo gives into the entreaties of the police chief of the small town of Egypt, Missouri, to use her unwanted talent to help find the missing master key that has gone missing. If the key isn’t found, the town will have to spend big bucks to replace all the locks.

Cleo arrives by train with her dog, Premonition, to be greeted by the town’s other police officer, Daniel Sinclair. Daniel had wanted nothing more than to leave Egypt, but now he has come home. A bad experience as a police hostage negotiator in San Diego left him guilt ridden and on a downward spiral. Then his mother died, and Daniel came back to care for his brain damaged older brother, Beau. Daniel had opposed hiring a psychic to find the key and he is convinced that Cleo must be a total fraud.

Cleo’s desperation increases when the town houses her in its only motel, a fleabag with orange carpet, orange drapes and an orange bedspread. Her room gives off all sorts of bad vibes. She tries to flee, but Daniel brings her back. She is having psychic visions. She sees an abandoned barn with a weathervane. What she has unwittingly done is uncover an old crime that places her in mortal danger.

The “romance” between Cleo and Daniel is one of those “I don’t like you and I don’t trust you but boy do I want you” affairs. For her part, Cleo is desperately seeking to escape from the pain of reliving the past. Daniel is not a particularly sympathetic hero for much of the story, although he does redeem himself in the end.

As I review the above paragraphs, I note that the word “desperate” keeps appearing. Weir does a masterful job of portraying Cleo’s mental state, so much so that the reader suffers right along with her. At times, the book is actually painful to read, a true tribute to Weir’s considerable talent as a writer.

Weir also creates excellent secondary characters, especially Beau whose innocence stands in a stark contrast to his brother’s jaded and suspicious nature. She also paints a fine picture of small town life, where things and people are not always what they seem.

Bad Karma is a very well written and compelling book. Why then am I not recommending it? I suppose that my chief reason is that I did not find the romance completely satisfactory. Still, if you want an emotionally intense read and if you are a fan of Weir’s unusual but interesting characters, you might well enjoy Bad Karma.

--Jean Mason

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