After Dark

Every Move She Makes

Her Secret Weapon

In the Arms of a Hero

The Last to Die

The Princess's Bodyguard

What She Doesn't Know

As Good As Dead by Beverly Barton
(Zebra, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7219-8
The third book in the Cherokee Pointe trilogy (following The Fifth Victim and The Last to Die), As Good As Dead is more a continuation of the second book than a true sequel. Heavily reliant on the earlier books, it does not stand well on its own, and readers who haven’t read at least the one immediately preceding book are likely to be lost. I had read the previous books but still found the scant background information sometimes inadequate. Readers who have been sitting on the edge of their seats wondering if Reve Sorrell and Jazzy Talbot are twins may find this an acceptable read, but those who are new to the series are advised to think twice.

When we last left Reve Sorrell, wealthy high society heiress, and Jazzy Talbot, local bad girl who had just found love, in Cherokee Pointe, Tennessee, they were still wondering if they were identical twin sisters. The strong physical resemblance between them seemed to favor that conclusion, but how had they been separated as infants? They decide to submit their DNA for testing.

Jacob Butler is the local sheriff. When he and Reve first met, instant animosity arose between them. Their good friends, Genny and Dallas Sloan and Jazzy and Caleb McCord, provide multiple opportunities for the two to move towards couplehood, but Reve’s and Jacob’s feelings remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, an unbalanced individual commits the rape and murder of a beautiful red-haired prostitute. He had murdered Dinah years ago but believes she comes back in the form of other redheads. He has ritualized the details of the murder scene including a black ribbon used for strangling his victims. Following the murder, he throws the body in a lake or river.

After investigation into two murders in Cherokee Pointe, Jacob begins to suspect that these are not isolated incidents but two more in a string of crimes committed by the same serial rapist/murderer.

There are still other secrets waiting to be uncovered. Reve decides to hire a private investigator to find out the truth behind her birth and abandonment. Several prominent Cherokee Pointe residents are afraid that their past misdeeds may be revealed.

Genny Sloan, a psychic, has a vision that both Jazzy and Reve are in danger, particularly Jazzy. Is her vision related to the fact that they are both redheads? Is it possible that the murderer may be targeting one or both of them?

The uneven pacing of As Good As Dead hampers the plot. It starts in low gear with the various characters visiting here and eating there, interspersed with brief graphic murder scenes through the killer’s eyes, then speeds up as the narrative goes along (and at nearly 400 pages it is long) until everything is explained, wrapped up, and neatly tied in the last few pages.

It’s also not until those last few pages that the romance between Reve and Jacob finally gears up. Throughout much of the book, characters are predicting that their antagonism is merely their reaction to the strong attraction between them and the two are meant for each. Could have fooled me. Their antagonism looks more credible than the sudden switch to romance. These two seem mismatched, and I am not convinced there’s a happily ever after in their long-term futures. Even though the publisher is calling this romantic suspense, the romance takes a back seat to the much stronger suspense element throughout most of the book.

A warning to the squeamish: those who want a book’s graphic sex scenes to add to the romance are likely to find those scenes in As Good As Dead to be a far cry from romantic. This is R-rated sex as violence. I do, however, have one technical question: if Genny Sloan was a virgin before she met Dallas, how does she know that the rapist/murderer’s male equipment is smaller than average? Isn’t her frame of reference a bit narrow?

That question is a clue as to the depth of my immersion into the story. The book never quite got a strong hold on my interest, and I figured out the several whodunits early on. When my thoughts start wandering off to “how’d she know that?” it’s not a good sign.

--Lesley Dunlap

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