Running on Empty
by Michelle Celmer
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1343, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-27413-0
***
Mitch Thompson is a detective who is described as a good cop who sometimes makes poor judgments. A few years ago, he became romantically involved with a victim who turned out to not be much of a victim she was a drug dealer and she ended up killing herself in his apartment. Mitch kept his badge, but this whole episode raised some questions.

Mitch has just finished a long interrogation of a suspected serial rapist. They never got a confession, but the evidence all points to this guy. Needing sleep, he has to stop at the grocery for his mother (who is recuperating from back surgery) and his sister (who is living with her to provide care). What he ends up with is a woman who was attacked in the store, and who now has amnesia. What bothers Mitch is that she had a paper with his name on it in her pocket and no other identification.

Here's where more poor judgment comes in he decides to take her home with him because a) she is feeling threatened and b) she tries to run from the safe house he takes her too. He is attracted to this woman in addition, and she to him. This poor judgment, which borders on the unethical, and the somewhat unbelievable scenario is hard to get around, but once you do, the story becomes a taut, suspense-filled tale with a decent romance.

The woman who loses her memory is full of contradictions. Her attitude is one of lots of spunk and pure open-ended honesty. She says what she thinks. Mitch admires that about her. But her x-rays show multiple old fractures that seem to indicate domestic abuse. Is she married? Does she have children? Why did she have Mitch's name in her pocket? This Jane Doe is a mystery herself.

As she slowly starts to remember things, there is apparently a stalker trying to kill them. They are shot at on the street and bricks are thrown in Mitch's apartment windows. Here again, one must suspend belief. If she was in danger, wouldn't Mitch's bosses suggest protective custody? Why would they allow him to handle all this on his own?

Mitch's partner plays a role in this but throughout most of the story, his role is as Mitch's conscience, reminding him of the previous fiasco and warning him he is getting in too deep. Other secondary characters are Mitch's sister and mother and the side plot around Mitch's overprotective nature with them.

Once I just accepted the premise, Running on Empty is an enjoyable and engaging suspense story. The build-up to the climax is scary at times and nerve-wracking. The killer and motive is disguised well until unveiled and this adds to the suspense. Mitch is a good hero, caring yet strong, ready to defend but able to appreciate Jane's spunk and apparent character strength. Jane is one of those heroines who finds her spine and resourcefulness as she discovers her identity. Watching her rediscover her true traits was engaging.

This is the second of Celmer's books I have read recently. The previous one was a Desire entry called The Seduction Request. Running on Empty is a vast improvement in terms of character development, but they share some unique plot lines that force the reader to suspend their beliefs. Yet both were easy to read and showed promise. Keep an eye on her for future stories.

--Shirley Lyons


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