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Every Breath She Takes
by Suzanne Forster
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-12443-5
***
Carlie Bishop is a women's safety consultant. She achieved prominence in her field through a book on combating stalking that became a surprise best seller. Her parents, including her mother, a Supreme Court justice, never expected anything of Carlie. Their attentions were directed towards her older sister Ginger who was killed by a stalker.

Rio Walker is the police detective assigned to the Femme Fatale case. The Femme Fatale is killing men who stalk women in a twist that reflects their particular stalking method. (How she manages to accomplish some of these is the biggest mystery of all.) Her signature is leaving a snapdragon with the victim. Rio is known for his almost supernatural intuition in crime solving. He taps his finger as a technique to focus his thinking. (Should a hero have such an irritating habit?) He sees a TV interview with Carlie on stalking and solely on that basis decides she is a very likely suspect for the Femme Fatale. (So much for solid police work step by step building a case on evidence.)

Rio had had an affair with Ginger although he doesn't think Carlie knows. Consequently, Carlie has had dark fantasies of Rio for years.

Late one evening Carlie goes grocery shopping. As she is putting the groceries in her car in the deserted parking lot (and this woman actually earns money advising women on self-protection!), Rio comes up to her. They engage in a little sexually tinged banter (while Carlie is telling herself that this isn't smart). As she is driving home, she observes that someone is following her. Eventually, she is pulled over by a police car, but she notices that it's not a standard patrol car. She reacts to the perceived threat and grabs the pepper spray from her purse. Too late she notices the Los Angeles Police Department badge.

"A cop," she whispered. "I've Maced a cop."

There are a lot of threads interwoven in this story. Carlie is assisted in her work by an assortment of wounded characters including a physically intimidating man terrified of upsetting women and a mysterious woman who seems to be fleeing a stalker in her past. A reporter is doing a series on stalking. Carlie is interested in solving Ginger's murder. Her mother is just as determined to keep the details quiet to protect the family image. The Femme Fatale strikes again.

This is a dark book and not only because it deals with a terrifying ordeal that confronts too many women. Much of the action takes place at night or in the dark. Carlie is particularly disposed to turn off the lights on a regular basis. There are a lot of spooky incidents to increase the sense of threatening atmosphere. The author is successful at maintaining the ominous mood of the story. As a romantic suspense, it is more successful as suspense than romance.

Where this book didn't work for me was the characters. Carlie is a woman who has literally written the book on steps women can take to protect themselves. You'd never know it by the way she acts. She is alone at night in deserted places. She buzzes people into her apartment without verifying their identity. Too bad she didn't read her own book.

Rio doesn't fit my definition of a hero. Frankly, the man is stalking Carlie. Much of his behavior towards her seems illogical. He's likely to show up at odd times and make creepy statements. It is pretty hard to feel the warm fuzzies towards a character who deserves reporting to the cops. Of course, he's a great lover, but I wondered why she'd let him near her.

The portrayal of Mama, the Supreme Court justice, seems completely farfetched. This is a woman who has presumably been through the Senate confirmation proceedings. Why she thought the details of Ginger's murder were going to remain her little secret is a real mystery.

This is one of those books that start out great then fizzle out so that finishing them becomes an endurance trial. I was disappointed by the wrap-everything-up conclusion. It seemed overly contrived with insufficient foundation for the surprise twists.

If the momentum of the sharp beginning had been maintained, this would be a first-rate book. Unfortunately, it runs out of breath well before the end.

--Lesley Dunlap


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