After Dark

Every Move She Makes

Her Secret Weapon

In the Arms of a Hero

The Princess's Bodyguard

What She Doesn't Know

The Last To Die
by Beverly Barton
(Zebra, $6.50, R) ISBN 0-8217-7216-3
The Last to Die is the second in a trilogy of three interrelated books set in Cherokee Pointe in eastern Tennessee. The first was The Fifth Victim, published in April 2003; the third, As Good As Dead, will be published in September 2004. These romantic suspense novels do not stand well on their own. The hero and heroine of The Last to Die were introduced in The Fifth Victim, and the hero and heroine of that book play major roles in this one. It’s unfortunate that the publisher has chosen to issue them at nine-month intervals because they are so closely tied. A possible strategy would be to wait until the third is out before reading any of the books.

Jasmine (Jazzy) Talbot is the Cherokee Pointe bad girl. She dyes her hair Hussy Red and wears green contacts over her brown eyes. She runs the best restaurant in town, Jasmine’s, as well as Jazzy’s Joint, a popular local bar. Jazzy has loved Jamie Upton, grandson and sole heir to Big Jim and Reba Upton, since she was sixteen. The wealthy and socially conscious Reba opposed Jamie marrying her because she considered her trash. Jamie has been in and out of her life over the years as he’s moved about the country.

He has once again returned to Cherokee Pointe with his third fiancée. He had not married either of the two previous ones, and Jazzy doubts he’ll marry Laura Willis, who along with her parents and younger sister is a guest at the Uptons’. Reba approves of her grandson’s newest fiancée because her moneyed family has raised Kentucky thoroughbreds for generations and is socially prominent.

Jamie is a complete loser, both personally and professionally. In spite of Laura’s hopes that she will have a storybook wedding and marriage, Jamie has no intention of remaining faithful to her. He has never gotten over Jazzy and is badgering her to resume a sexual relationship with him and to be his mistress after he’s married. He deserts Laura at their engagement party to go to Jazzy.

Caleb McCord is the bouncer in Jazzy’s Joint. An instant strong attraction struck up between him and Jazzy at their first meeting. He would like to be the only man in her life, but he suspects that Jazzy is still involved with Jamie. He’ll hang around and see.

Reve Sorrell comes to town to meet Jazzy. She had met and briefly dated Jamie Upton who told her that she looks enough like Jazzy to be her twin. The resemblance between them is striking. Reve knows that she was adopted and cannot help wonder what-if, but Jazzy’s aunt is firm that her sister gave birth to only one baby

Genny Madoc, Jazzy’s friend and well-known psychic (and heroine of the first book), has a vision of Jamie being savagely tortured and murdered. Furthermore, she is convinced that Jazzy’s life will be endangered when she is suspected of the crime.

Jazzy is an admirable heroine. She’s been used and abandoned – repeatedly – by Jamie, but she really loves the cad. She’s sufficiently self-aware to know that the original attraction was that Jamie came from a wealthy family, but over the years it’s become much more. Now she knows it’s time to end it once and for all and move on. In spite of her unlucky love life, Jazzy has worked to make a success of her business life. She’s liked and respected by friends and employees. One can’t help but believe along with Jim Upton that if his grandmother had allowed Jamie to marry Jazzy that might have been the making of him. It’s obvious that Laura isn’t the right woman for him.

There are several plot twists that stretch plausibility. Caleb’s origins are the kind that only happen in fiction. The identity and motivation behind the murderer are equally farfetched. That Jamie would be even slightly attracted to the fragile and unstable Laura for more than a few minutes remains unconvincing. Only Reba Upton sees that as being a viable match. It’s a wonder that Laura’s parents don’t take a stand. What parents would see the fickle and irresponsible Jamie as a desirable son-in-law?

There’s a good balance between romance and the suspense threads. They’re interwoven well, and neither overwhelms the other. The book’s R-rating is not only for its graphic sex scenes but for the graphic violence. Both The Fifth Victim and The Last To Die have some particularly grisly torture and slaughter scenes. Readers with weak stomachs may want to think twice before picking up either.

According to an excerpt at the back of The Last to Die, As Good As Dead will feature Reve Sorrell as the heroine so it’s a safe bet that Jazzy and Caleb and all the other denizens of Cherokee Pointe will be back for an encore.

--Lesley Dunlap

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