As Carla Cassidy:

Code Name: Cowboy

Reluctant Dad

Her Counterfeit Husband

Man on a Mission

Once Forbidden

Reluctant Wife

Rodeo Dad

Strangers When We Married

The Magician by Carla Cook
(Love Spell, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-505-52490-2
Six-year-old Gina Marlowe is afraid to go to sleep. Sheís afraid if she sleeps sheíll fly through a dark tunnel and be unable to return. Her mother Kathleen has attributed Ginaís sleeplessness to the upheaval in her young life following the death of her physician father Sutton. One night, however, Kathleen checks Gina and finds sheís stopped breathing. At the emergency room, Gina suddenly awakens, and the doctors believe she was merely in deep sleep and was wrongly diagnosed as dead.

Kathleen takes her to specialists who insist there is nothing wrong with Gina, but her bouts of near-death increase in frequency and duration. Kathleen is terrified. Her fears multiply when a reporter Keith Kelly contacts her. His daughter Sharon has been similarly effected as Gina, and now Sharon is in a coma.

One night a stranger appears at Kathleenís door. He identifies himself as Lucas Connolly and says, ďI am here to save your daughterís soul.Ē He says that Gina is in terrible danger. Kathleen responds like any normal, sensible woman and refuses to discuss her problems with him.

When Gina has an episode during the day, however, she seeks out Lucas, who is a magician in a club act. Lucas convinces her that he can teach Gina to resist what he calls astral projecting. Kathleen cannot help responding to the charismatic Lucas. He believes that he and Kathleen have been lovers in previous lifetimes.

The danger surrounding the three escalates when Keith, who has been assigned a story on church desecration, discovers other girls who are in the same kind of coma as his daughter. The forces of evil, commanded by Thanatos, a disciple of Satan, are at work in the world, and Gina is their next target.

Iím pretty widely read in the various subgenres of romance fiction, but The Magician introduced me to a new one - one I didnít even know existed: romantic horror. Itís not one that will become one of my favorites, and I doubt itís a subgenre thatís going to be met with universal appeal among romance readers. But this particular book hooked my interest from the very beginning, and I have to recommend a book that keeps me turning pages with scarcely a break.

I prefer a plot where every turn and twist isnít foreshadowed in the early chapters, and in that respect The Magician satisfies. There are some unexpected twists in the story line. Early on I got the feeling there was something mysterious about Sutton so I was expecting further revelations about him, but others came as a surprise.

This is a plot-driven book. Character development is secondary. Kathleen is a devoted mother. Lucas is an enigma with unique psychic talents. Ginaís a cute kid with a big problem. As the action goes barreling along and a miasma of evil envelops the characters, thatís about as deep as it gets.

The basis of the romance isnít much more developed. Lucas asserts that Kathleen and he are destined for one another. Theyíve been lovers in past lifetimes; fate will inexorably bring them together again. I never felt, however, as though there was a question of whether theyíre meant for each other, and the few scenes of intimacy between them confirm this inevitability.

I found The Magician to be an unusually visual book; itís easy to imagine it as a movie proposal. I never have a problem visualizing the story action when I read, but the writing creates especially vivid images. The Magician is loaded with atmosphere. The facets of nature reflect the moods of the characters and the tension of the plot. Clouds gather. Thunder rolls. Winds swirl. It becomes more than just two people battling the forces of evil - all of nature is focused on this struggle.

Carla Cook will be an unfamiliar name to readers, but many will recognize the category romance pseudonym of this author: Carla Cassidy. This is a most unusual departure from her normal style. The authorís fans, as well as others not familiar with her books, may want to check it out. (Speaking of unusual departures, the story and the blurb on the back cover have a failure to communicate: the back cover refers to the heroine as Katherine Mayfield, something Iíve run into only one other time.)

A piece of advice for readers who are looking for something different in romance: this might be a good choice but I donít recommend reading it on a dark and stormy night!

--Lesley Dunlap

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