Now or Never by Elizabeth Adler
(Dell, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-440-22464-0
*****
Take my advice, it's better to start reading Now or Never, sooner, rather than later. By that I mean just decide what time you want to go to bed, calculate how long it will take you to read 440 pages, and work back from there. This is one that you could not have pried from my hands, and after I finished it, I immediately started hunting Elizabeth Adler's previous books.

Harry Jordan is a Harvard lawyer who abandoned criminal defense to have a more immediate impact on the justice system. He is a Boston homicide detective and heir apparent to the Jordan and Prescott empires. Even with all that prestige and money, the warmest thing in his life is his malamute, Squeeze.

The peace of Boston is shattered by what appears to be the third in a series of rape and mutilation killings. This victim lived only long enough to describe the eyes and hands of the killer. The image was enhanced by input from passersby who interrupted the crime and managed to get her to a hospital. Realizing the police need help, Harry calls the production staff of Mallory Malone, the TV talk show host.

Mallory is an established star who has become known as the TV Detective, by virtue of lending her credibility and airtime to investigations worldwide. She is interested in the story and flies to Boston to meet with Harry. Mallory believes the victims are being stalked before they are attacked, and her interest builds until Harry shows her the composite sketch the police artist has created. Her interest disappears immediately. Claiming the data is insufficient for her to help, she returns to New York.

Harry is intrigued by the persona of the non-celebrity Mallory Malone. And even more intriguing to him was the sudden immobility of her face when she saw the sketch and the way her haunted eyes reflected fear. Harry, persistent as we would expect, is off to New York in hot pursuit.

Mallory is not your typical local girl makes good. Instead, she has reinvented herself from a background of mystery. With great skill, she has managed to fabricate everything but happiness.

Adler uses a shifting point of view that seamlessly slides from killer to victim from Harry to Mallory. Her characters are real and perfectly balanced. She skillfully varies the dynamics of each scene, smoothly inserting Mallory's history into the blend and effortlessly weaving a twisty tale of horror. The suspense is tinged with compassion, and the romance is laced with empathy and humor.

Be warned there are several graphic scenes that might offend the squeamish. This is important because the book will continue to play through your mind well after it is finished. If a superbly written novel can do this for me, it is automatically a keeper.

--Thea Davis


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