Killjoy by Julie Garwood
(Ballantine, $25.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-345-45380-8
There are three kind of Julie Garwood fans: those who love all her books; those who love her historicals but donít like her contemporaries; and those who never liked her historicals but love her contemporaries. Count me among the latter group. There is something about Garwoodís suspense romances that just sucks me in. Iíve read Mercy several times. (Yes, I know, I only gave it four hearts but I didnít realize then that it would become a keeper.) And Iíve read Killjoy twice and both times, I had a wonderful time.

The secret is the characters. Garwood has created a great cast; heroine, hero, villains, secondary characters - all are fully drawn and fascinating. Oh, and the plotís darn good too.

The heroine is Avery Delaney, an analyst for the FBI. From the first, we know she is both smart and daring, as is clear when she figures out the motive and method behind a series of bank robbers and takes the initiative to capture them. Avery had always wanted to be an FBI agent, ever since her life was saved by one when her motherís boyfriend tried to kill her.

Now sheís off for a vacation at an exclusive spa in Colorado with her beloved Aunt Carrie. Carrie had raised Avery after her mother abandoned her and her grandmother died. A successful advertising executive in Los Angeles, Carrie received an anonymous week at the Utopia Spa and decides to accept the gift so she can reflect on her failing marriage. She is delighted that Avery will join her.

But Avery is delayed and when she arrives at Utopia, she discovers that her auntís reservation was canceled. But she knows that Carrie arrived in Colorado and was met by a representative from the spa, one Monk Edwards, who took Carrie and two other women to a retreat rather than the spa.

We know - and Avery soon finds out - that Carrie and the two other women have been kidnapped and are in desperate danger.

Waiting for Avery at the spa is Jean Paul Renard whom we met in Mercy. An ex-Marine and retired government operative, Jean Paul has made it his mission to find and stop Monk, a contract killer who almost killed his sister. He had tracked Monk to Utopia and finds himself caught up in the bizarre scheme of revenge that Monk has signed onto. We discover quite early on that Monk has fallen in love with Jilly Delaney, Averyís mother, the woman who abandoned her at birth and who tried to kidnap her and who now wants to punish both her sister and her daughter.

The excitement in Killjoy is non-stop, as Avery and Jean Paul flee from Monk through the Colorado wilderness. Jean Paul, the tough loner, finds that Avery is almost as tough as he is and that she is able to dish it out as well as take it. Both start out believing that the other is the very antithesis of what they find attractive in the opposite sex. After all, he hates authority and she believes in being a team player. She is a liberal; he certainly is not. Both discover that these differences donít matter as they face danger together.

If the hero and heroine are both great characters, the villains are equally compelling. Monk is a contract killer of great skill who has no morals whatsoever; Jilly is quite clearly a sociopath and a psychopath all rolled into one. Monk has clearly found his soul-mate, but Jilly has no soul What a pair!

Garwood is an immensely skilled writer. She has a sure touch as she mixes adventure and romance and humor into an exciting and entertaining story. Her dialogue sparkles, her plot twists and turns, her characters are both larger than life and real, her romance is a delight. Killjoy will remain on my shelves for a long time and I know that I will revisit it again. Now, is Noah going to get his comeuppance (and his romance) in her next book? I can hardly wait.

--Jean Mason

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