Shadow Force

Shadow Watch

Shadow Hunter
by Linda Conrad
(Silh. Romantic Susp. #1450, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN -0-373-27520-5
Shadow Hunter is an unhappy blend of formulaic reunion romance, Navajo lore, paranormal threats and thuggish antics more suitable for a Keystone cop comedy than romantic suspense.

Spoiled heiress Bailey Howard is on her way to take care of her paternal grandmother when she is mistakenly kidnapped by Skinwalkers, or Navajo shape shifters who have joined the evil side. The criminals believe she is the mother of a baby they want to hold for ransom (why they want the baby and not the mother is one of several details that are never really explained). Navajo Tribal Special Investigator Hunter Long is assigned to track them down and bring back the victims.

Hunter has two good reasons for wanting to succeed. He is a member of the Brotherhood, a secret association of Navajo medicine men who have pledged to fight the evil ones. More importantly, Bailey and he have a past: they were lovers for several years until she gave up the Navajo way for life in the fast lane. At least, thatís the way it sounds in the beginning. We learn later that the difficulties lay with him because he couldnít and still canít commit (more on this below).

Hunter doesnít have any problem rescuing Bailey, but he canít convince her to let him do his hero stuff alone. Their trek through the Four Corners area (nicely described for the most part) gives them some opportunity to show each other what they are worth.

Or it would if the dangers the two face represented a real threat. Thatís my biggest issue with this novel: you just canít count on the villains. They are supposed to be (or at least work for) fiendish and terrifying monsters who have sold their human souls, but they look and sound as if they walked off the set of Scooby Doo. Thanks to those pesky do-gooders, the Brotherhood, first Bailey and then the baby get away. Of course, given the glaring holes in the criminal master plan, itís hard to believe that anyone, even cartoon book villains, ever really believed they could pull it off. Who in their right mind, let alone in their evil one, would hire some kindly old Navajo woman to take care of a kidnapped baby? Who would leave her alone and unguarded with the baby so she can just carry him away?

With only knuckleheads to tackle, Hunter doesnít have too many opportunities to flex his macho arms. I donít think thatís the main reason I didnít find him very admirable. He has far too many unresolved commitment issues. Yes, it is hard to overcome a difficult childhood and an abusive father, but somewhere along the line, he trained as a medicine man. This should have helped him find his inner harmony. Instead, he blames Bailey for his internal chaos!

Bailey starts off the novel sounding like a cross between Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Two-hundred-fifty pages of her trashy heiress ways would have been unbearable. Fortunately, she shows some willingness to adapt and grow. Actually, most of this happens before the story begins, but since her backstory is only gradually revealed, it fuels the novelís momentum and goes some way in making her a likeable character.

Hunterís cousins, who also belong to the Brotherhood, are more pleasant than either of the lead characters, enough so that I might give this series a second try if they should ever be featured. This book, however, is too irritating, muddled and just plain unsatisfying to recommend.

--Mary Benn

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