Look Closely by Laura Caldwell
(Mira, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-7783-2183-5
**
Look Closely is a title that doesnít really mean it. If you look too closely, youíll notice that the mystery falls apart at the end and the romance is so gossamer-thin it might as well not be there. This cross between suspense and chick lit doesnít stand up well to scrutiny.

Hailey Sutter is an up-and-coming associate with a high-powered New York law firm. Her father is a partner in the firm, but itís her own skill and ability to attract clients thatís put her on the partnership track.

Hailey receives an anonymous letter in the mail. Its message is:

There is no statute of limitations on murder.

Look closely.

Haileyís mother died mysteriously when she was eight. Her father took her on a succession of moves afterwards eventually settling on Long Island. Her older brother and sister disappeared completely from her life. Hailey instantly knows that the cryptic message is tied to her motherís death.

Sheís presently working on an upcoming arbitration for a Chicago retailer, McKnight Corporation. A newspaper article is the first hint that thereís more to the case than she had been led to believe. Her childhood home in Woodland Dunes, Michigan, is not far from Chicago. She decides to carve some time out of her business trip to visit Woodland Dunes and look into her motherís death.

What she learns there only intensifies her desire to know. What really happened to her mother and to her family?

Look Closely does two things well Ė it establishes a suspenseful mood early on maintaining it till the end, and the whodunit has a surprise twist. The rest is much less successful. Haileyís need to delve into her past is understandable. What isnít so understandable is why she never asks dear old dad anything. Even when her brother-in-law asks her for his phone number, she wonít turn it over.

Her search for her siblings is another weak point. Hailey is supposed to be a lawyer, but she never utilizes Westlaw or Lexis people databases. What takes several chapters in the book could have been accomplished in a matter of minutes if she knew what she was doing ... or asked a librarian!

Itís a real mystery why the romance thread was included at all. If the author intended this to be romantic suspense, it needs more than this romance wannabe. The heroine has more of a connection with her friend Maddy than the guy who supposedly catches Haileyís interest.

I was anticipating a three-heart rating for Look Closely through much of the book, but the poor ending squelched that. A reader expects that all the questions raised in a mystery will be answered by the time the last page is finished, but I was left with many of my questions unanswered. Just revealing the whodunit isnít sufficient if the other hows and whys are still hanging out there.

With its look-real-closely-or-youíll-miss-it romance and the unsatisfying conclusion, Look Closely fails to deliver. I recommend you look elsewhere.

--Lesley Dunlap


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