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Lethal
by Sandra Brown
(Grand Central, $26.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1-4555-0147-2
*****
In a small coastal town in Louisiana, Honor Gillette’s four year old daughter Emily tells her that a sick man is in their yard. Honor goes out to see if she can help, and the man quickly springs to life, grabs her and forces her into her home.  He comes across as very desperate and dangerous and she realizes that he is Lee Coburn, the man being hunted for killing seven people the night before in a coastal warehouse nearby where he had been employed.

Coburn promises her that as long as she obeys him he will not harm her or her daughter. Widowed when her husband, who was a police officer, was killed in car accident, Honor has little hope of anyone coming to rescue them. Oddly, he doesn't want money or any help, except her tolerance in letting him search her house for something he claims her husband had in his possession at the time of his death.

Coburn’s intimidation is effective and gains her cooperation even to the point of her persuading her father-in-law that the small birthday planned for the night is off. He searches throughout the day and probably a portion of the night and, true to his word, when she awakens the next morning he is gone. Soon Fred Hawkins, an officer, appears in a boat that had been searching the bayou. As she is telling Hawkins what has happened, Coburn bursts into the room,they struggle and he kills Hawkins.

Coburn reveals that he is a federal agent working at the warehouse undercover, and that it was the Hawkins brothers who had killed the seven people. What clinches it for her is when he reveals that what he is searching for is evidence of the knowledge that had gotten her husband killed.

So, believing him, Honor and Emily leave with him for their safety, and flee to her deceased father's shrimp boat. Coburn is in fact undercover without the knowledge of the agent in charge of the area. Lee Coburn is looking for The Bookkeeper, the head of a business using Interstate 10 as the corridor to transport persons to be sold as sex slaves in one direction, and weapons in the other direction to Mexico. The Bookkeeper bribed, blackmailed and used every technique known to create a stable full of police and inspectors that permitted the free flow of this traffic.

The Bookkeeper has as one employee, a sociopathic killer named Diego with an unusual love, and thus another subplot runs throughout the book as Coburn races to discover the identity of The Bookkeeper.

As usual Sandra Brown's characters are superbly drawn, and in face of multiple subplots the action segues easily among it all. Also typical for Brown, dialogue is always appropriate, both for the geographical area and the context in which it occurs. The growing attraction between Coburn, who is truly lethal, and Honor keeps pace in a subtle way with the mounting tension and suspense.

The ending will surprise you, and the journey toward it will be pure reading pleasure.

--Thea Davis


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