A Love Beyond Time

A Place Called Home

 
Secret Shadows by Judie Aitken
(Berkley, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-425-19941-X
***
The story line in Secret Shadows hinges on an extremely improbable circumstance. The hero has attended and graduated from the top-ranked law school at the University of Virginia and joined the FBI. And none of the hometown folks Ė including his mother and sister! Ė know anything about it. Donít you think Mom would be wanting to know what sonny boy is doing with himself during those post-college years?

Dane White Eagle is an undercover FBI agent investigating illegal designer drug manufacture and trafficking on the Cold Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He has infiltrated the Big Elk gang but still hasnít discovered the location of the manufacturing site. Information heís supplied helped convict Bobby Big Elk, but Bobby refused to reveal the location even in return for a deal. Leland Big Elk is Daneís motherís boyfriend, but itís Bobby who is the brains of the business.

Dane picks up his thirteen-year-old sister Kylee, who is dying of a brain tumor. He is to take her to a party but has to make a stop on the way. He leaves his gun in the car, and in his absence, someone uses his gun to shoot Kylee and attempts to make it look like suicide. Desperate, Dane rushes her to the hospital emergency room.

Dr. Claire Colby is a trauma specialist. She sees Dane bring in Kylee and tries to save the girl. She later testifies at Daneís trial. In the aftermath of the murder, Dane, along with other agents, decides to use Kyleeís murder as a pretext to have Dane sent to the same prison as Bobby Big Elk.

After six months in prison, Dane still hasnít persuaded Bobby to reveal any secrets so he is released on a technicality. He returns to the reservation where he discovers that Claire has left emergency medicine and is now in practice at the local clinic. She has become close to his mother who blames Dane for Kyleeís death and refuses to acknowledge him as her son.

Leland arranges for Dane to join the reservation police force, but Dane is still working to uncover the source of the designer drugs. He asks Claire to alert him to any drug use. Working together to stop the spread of illegal drugs, they will become attracted to one another and will put themselves in danger.

Secret Shadows is so much like the native American romances Kathleen Eagle used to write that there were times Iíd forget it was actually the work of Judie Aitken. The basic pattern is the same: stoic, noble native hero, generous, benevolent white heroine. The sense of alienation felt by both characters also has familiar ring.

Dane is especially isolated. Even his own mother has rejected him. He is offered a place to live by the elderly Clement Runs After, who still embraces the old ways. Clement is one of those characters who frequently appear in such stories to emphasize how modern life has eroded traditional values.

There are some holes in the mystery element of Secret Shadows. Arenít there some heat-sensing detectors that could assist in finding the manufacturing site? Why didnít anyone pursue the disappearance of Claireís predecessor? Why is all the burden on Dane? Canít his FBI buddies do something? On the whole, however, the mystery is solid, and the whodunit isnít telegraphed a mile away.

The romance isnít as strong as the mystery subplot. Dane and Claire experience dreams that are remarkably similar, and a pack of dogs shows up at odd times. It all has to mean something mystic because there must be some reason for the attraction between them. Itís easy to understand what Dane sees in Claire, but her trust in him borders on blind faith. She has every reason to doubt his trustworthiness but seems dazzled by his bronzed Indian brave physique, which is dramatically highlighted in the cover illustration.

The stark description of the impoverished conditions on the reservation is one of the bookís strengths. The narrative doesnít gloss over the realities of daily life on the reservation, and the setting underscores Daneís sense of alienation.

Usually the Big Misunderstanding in a romance refers to the relationship between the hero and heroine. In Secret Shadows itís between the hero and everyone else. Because it doesnít seem even remotely possible that Dane could keep his degree and career a complete secret, the whole story suffers. Nevertheless, the realistic depiction of reservation life and the decent mystery subplot make this an acceptable book.

--Lesley Dunlap


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