The Alibi

Envy

Ricochet

Standoff

The Switch

Unspeakable

White Hot

 
Smoke Screen
by Sandra Brown
(Simon & Schuster, $26.95, PG-13) ISBN  978-1-4165-630-68
****
After last year's disappointing and bizarre Play Dirty, 2008's Smoke Screen is, contrary to its title, a breath of fresh air. This is Sandra Brown at her romantic suspense best, rife with quirky characters and plot twists.

When Detective Jay Burgess is found dead in his bed with Britt Shelley, it's automatically assumed that the up-and-coming reporter killed him in a drunken lover's rage.

Unfortunately for everyone – especially Britt, she doesn't remember a thing past leaving to go to Jay's apartment to have a talk. Though they had been involved years before, Britt and Jay did not have a relationship beyond casual friendship. Britt is sure she was drugged, but tests are negative.

Enter Raley Gannon, former arson investigator who was driven from his job, his fiancée, and his home by similar circumstances several years before. Raley has holed up in the woods since he was acquitted of the murder of a woman found dead in bed with him following a party at Jay's house.

Now, after kidnapping her, he and Britt put their heads together to try to figure out what kind of trouble Jay Burgess and the other three heroes of the infamous police department fire have caused – each trying to clear their name, perhaps at the cost of their own lives.

Smoke Screen is fast-moving and edgy, likely to be one of those books readers can't put down. The ups and downs of both Britt's and Raley's lives will gouge at the heart even as the twists and turns of the story will induce you to bite your nails. The relationship between the two main characters doesn't bloom right away, and I found it a nice change to a lot of romances where the characters jump straight into bed. However, it didn't get hashed out very well once it had developed. The "bad" guys are given a lot of play, which proves and excellent way to endear them slightly to the reader; but the final plot twist isn't very well-organized, and the last scene with the mastermind is pretty cliche.

None of these things kept Smoke Screen from being a fun read, though, and it is unlikely they will even dent the enjoyment of the book for most.

A tale about lines that are as blurry as its namesake, Smoke Screen is the type of book that will force the readers as well as the characters outside of the box, into areas beyond the black and white.

--Sarrah Knight


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