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Shadow Game by Christine Feehan
(Jove, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-515-13596-8
Christine Feehan puts those wacky Carpathians on hold and offers readers this first book in what is sure to be the never-ending GhostWalkers series. Somewhere in the 323 pages of tiny print is an interesting idea straining to make its way through a very muddled mess.

Dr. Peter Whitney had the idea of taking men with military and law enforcement backgrounds, enhancing their normal psychic abilities, and making them an elite military weapon. However, something has gone wrong, and the men are now isolated in cages in an underground laboratory. Captain Ryland Miller blames himself for this development, since he talked his men into participating. Now several of the men have died in “accidents” and Ryland and his isolated comrades have been communicating telepathically about plans of escape.

Dr. Whitney suspects foul play among his superiors, and brings in his brilliant, and telepathic, daughter, Lily to help. Shortly after her arrival though, her father is murdered, and Lily is left to pick up the pieces. What she discovers shocks her, as her father was keeping secrets from just about everybody – including his devoted daughter. Also shocking is her obsessive attraction to Ryland – who seems equally as obsessed with her. Can they find out who is trying to sabotage the project? Who murdered Lily’s father and why? And will the GhostWalkers ever be able to live normal lives outside of a lab?

Even though this book is being marketed as a romantic suspense, the romance is so weak it may as well be non-existent. The moment Ryland lays his eyes on Lily he finds himself hopelessly captivated by her. She’s beautiful, intelligent, sexy, blah, blah, blah. He literally falls in love at first sight – and Lily’s feelings are pretty much identical. This means that there is no progression or development of the romance. They meet, they’re madly in love, that’s all folks.

The romance, such as it is, is further prohibited by a wordy writing style. There’s little traditional dialogue here – since the characters tend to communicate telepathically. When they do talk, they don’t say a whole lot outside of scientific babble, and tiresome “I’ve never felt this way before, we are so connected” tripe. Coupled with the author’s tendency to get purple with verbose, mind numbing, descriptive passages, the pacing is bogged down to almost a standstill. There are also several instances where the tone shifts abruptly in the story, and at inappropriate times. For example, one of the men has a seizure and becomes unconscious. On her way to examine him, Lily stops to banter with Ryland and another GhostWalker. When faced with an unresponsive patient, who suffered from a seizure of unknown causes, I’m sure a lot of female scientists would stop to flirt with a big, strapping military man. The story is peppered with instances like this, all of them just as unrealistic as the next.

Ryland and Lily do share some nice steamy love scenes, but they come at the expense of any sort of real character development. Ryland’s past is briefly explored, although it would have been nice to know just how he came upon the military as a career. Lily is a scientist, but the author never really discusses her specialty – although I began to assume medicine. Also it’s harped on that her father did everything to protect her, including building a house with really thick walls and hiring a staff she couldn’t “read.” So how the heck did brilliant, scientist Lily go to college I wonder? Instead, when the two are together they only seem to talk about how they are so drawn to each other, is it natural or the result of the experiment, blah, blah, blah.

Adding more to the muddle, the author introduces so many other men in Ryland’s unit that I cannot firmly state just how many of them exist. They are all handsome, tough, and dangerous – basically making them interchangeable psychic Ken dolls. All of this likely means another long running series, but since these mysterious men aren’t given any sort of character development either, I can’t say I’m terribly curious about any of their future books.

At the heart of Shadow Game is a kernel of a good idea. Unfortunately the promising GhostWalker premise gets buried under a whole bunch of other stuff like overwritten descriptive passages, and poor pacing. This muddle also prohibits the romance and characters from really developing into more than just mere ideas on paper. I had a hard time reading this book, and it was literally a struggle for me to read beyond a couple chapters in one sitting. I couldn’t wait to be done with it and move on to something different – which in this reviewer’s mind practically screams “think twice.”

--Wendy Crutcher

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