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Undercover M.D by Marie Ferrarella
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1191, $4.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-27261-8
*
Terrence McColl is the very last person Alix DuCane expects to see in the southern California hospital where she’s an attending physician. He’d walked out on her, their love, and their life together six years before, vanishing without a trace. She’d often wondered what had happened to him, and now she knew. She also knew that six years, a two-year-old daughter, and a marriage that had ended tragically just after her daughter was born, had not made her attraction to Terrence any less powerful, or any less painful.

When DEA Agent McColl agrees to go back to Blair Hospital, where he’d trained years before, posing as a doctor while he works as the lead agent in the investigation of drug smugglers, he has no idea that Alix will still be there, nor that she is more beautiful and exciting than ever. When his father had died after being shot in a DEA raid in spite of everything that the doctors could do to save him, Terrence had turned his back on his career, his life, and his love. It was only after he’d decided to follow his father’s footsteps and avenge his death that way, that he finally got some semblance of his life back.

But he had never forgotten Alix, and now she is back in his life again. There is no way he can let her know why he is back at Blair, and no way he can completely explain why he’d left her without a word. His job now is to find the hospital employees involved in the drug ring, and take them down, while protecting the innocent employees and the reputation of the hospital itself. Getting involved with Alix isn’t part of his job, and could well put her in danger, but Terrence can’t help himself. The chemistry between them has always been too strong to resist, and being together after their six-year separation only makes the fire hotter and more impossible for either of them to resist.

While the basic idea of the plot (old lover returns incognito and passion re-ignites) is fine, the way it is carried out in Undercover M.D. leaves something lacking. All the action is predictable, with all foreshadowing pointing to exactly the way the ending will work out. There are all the required scenes for a mystery: planting the phone taps, shadowing the suspect, listening to boring conversations, suspicions of foul play and incorrect assumptions, and finally, the break in the case that quickly leads to the predicted ending. There are also the required scenes for a romance: unexpected first meeting, sparks and anger flying, requests for openness on one side and secrets on the other, sex scenes when the daughter is conveniently with her grandfather, remorse, more anger, final explanations, and a neatly-tied ending. There is little to intrigue the reader or to draw her along in the story.

The characters seem rather flat and one-dimensional, never allowing the reader to actually believe in them as real people. Terrence’s disappearance did not seem justified, nor did his cutting himself off from Alix so completely. He didn’t go into the Witness Protection Program, so when he decided he was going with DEA, why didn’t he call her and tell her about it? Alix’s anger at him is more than justified, and gives her character energy, so why does she invite him back into her bed after only days? And why didn’t Terrence trust her enough to tell her what was going down, and why he was actually back in town? As she said, “What did you think I was going to do, betray you to become his gun moll?” Even the villain of the piece is rather wooden, a whiny pitiful caricature of a man who inspires repugnance both in other characters and in the reader, rather than any sense of fear or evil.

Undercover M.D. should stay right there: under the covers, which is the only place it seems to come alive.

--Joni Richards Bodart


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