A Killing Tide
by P.J. Alderman
(Love Spell, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52696-0
***
Kaz Jorgensen has put her corporate life on hold to return to a sleepy Oregon fishing village she once called home. Her twin brother Gary has been behaving oddly. Concerned that he may have financial worries or that he may be dealing with posttraumatic syndrome, she offers her support but is rejected. When the family boat explodes and a dead man is pulled off the wreckage, Kaz gets her chance. Gary is suspected of murder and arson, and his sudden disappearance apparently confirms his guilt. Kaz pulls all stops to clear his name. To do so, she must find him before the police do.

Standing in her way is Michael Chapman, the new fire chief. Michael lost his fiancťe several years ago when an arsonist he was investigating took out his anger on her. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, Michael moved from Boston to Astoria and is now resolved to be as objective and detached as possible. This means not getting involved with the sister of an arson suspect.

The problem is, of course, that Michael and Kaz are attracted to each other. They therefore spend a considerable time reminding themselves why they should ignore their lustful thoughts. Their qualms make sense, but do we really need to hear them so often?

Michael feels very protective towards Kaz and seems to think this gives him the right to order her about. So when he isnít dealing with his inner demons, he comes off as quite overbearing.

Kaz convincingly stands her ground. After all, she is a seasoned navigator and knows how to assess risks. Her emotions are a bit too high-pitched for someone whose livelihood depends on steady nerves. This was slightly annoying, but not out of character, given her concerns for her only living relative.

The setting contributes nicely to the story: Michael and Kazís romance is given some angst-free space to grow while they are fishing (retrieving crab pots, to be precise). Astoriaís closed-off mentality sounds authentic and adds another roadblock to the investigation. Things are nevertheless set up so the reader can immediately tell the good guys from the bad ones. The former are friendly and helpful. The others just donít have the right attitude, be it towards fishing or towards Kaz and her brother. This took much of the surprise out of the who-done-it. Although it wasnít possible to predict every detail of the criminal conspiracy, it was always easy to recognize the guilty.

The pacing is much better in the second half when we donít have to trawl through pages and pages of the should-I-shouldnít-I debate. The dangers multiply as Kaz and her allies fight off armed attacks, dodge bullets and navigate through dangerous waters. Even if most twists are foreseeable, they still generate sufficient tension to keep the pages turning.

With a story that eventually falls into place and characters that occasionally have their moments, A Killing Tide isnít terribly disappointing or deeply flawed. But it is too uneven to get much more than passing marks.

--Mary Benn


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