Come the Spring

For The Roses

One Pink Rose

One Red Rose

One White Rose

Ransom

The Wedding

 
Heartbreaker by Julie Garwood
(Pocket, $24.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-03299-2
****
Once upon a time I thought of Julie Garwood as only a writer of historical fiction and never imagined that she would be writing anything else. Well, I stand corrected. And amazed. Heartbreaker, Ms. Garwood's first foray into contemporary fiction, just about blew me out of the water. Almost from the beginning I was mesmerized by this story.

I've always enjoyed her Garwood’s historicals, appreciating her sense of lightness and wholesome escapism. Heartbreaker is neither, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment one iota. What is blindingly apparent in her latest book is that Julie Garwood has earned her best-selling status, whether she's writing historicals, contemporaries or the ad copy for cereal boxes. Talent is talent, no matter the genre.

Heartbreaker begins with a hook that is so powerful, so compelling that most readers will soon be wriggling. In a sweltering confessional booth that seems hotter than hell, Father Tom Madden is getting a heat rash, and the piddly fan he's using isn't working. He'll soon forget that he's hot, however, as he hears a confession that will change his life."Bless me, Father, for I will sin." In chilling detail the stranger describes his murderous past and that he's going to kill again. He loves a challenge, so he's giving Tom some clues, including the name of his next victim. Her name is Laurant...Laurant Madden, Tom's younger sister.

Enter FBI agent Nick Buchanan, sorely in need of some emotional R&R. Forced to kill on his last assignment, he's taking an enforced vacation from his high stress job. He and Tom have been friends since childhood, so there's no question that Nick will come to Laurant's aid. Nick has never met Laurant, who grew up in France, and is totally broad sided by the attraction he feels for this lovely young woman. What a time for his hormones to come into play, considering that he's up against a meticulous, cunning killer.

Laurant Madden is a far cry from Garwood's usual heroines. She's not ditzy, saccharine sweet or even clutzy. And if she hadn't done something that put her perilously close to the Too Stupid To Live category, this book would have had a strong five-heart recommendation. Tom and Nick aren't keeping the killer's threats from Laurant. The killer has been accommodating; he recorded his confession to Tom and then sent the tape to the police. When Laurant hears the tape, she knows that she's the main victim. What worries her is the killer's taunt that he'll practice on innocent women if he can't get to Laurant.

This sets the stage for Laurant to be noble. She won't go into hiding until the psycho is caught. Nor will she jeopardize other women's lives. Nope, she'll be bait! This plot device is used to bring Nick and Laurant together. Thinking to make the killer jealous, Nick moves in with her. Every time they're in public they'll be lovey-dovey. And we all know that what starts out as pretend doesn't stay that way for too long.

Garwood’s quirky, scatterbrained characters are still here, but in secondary roles this time. Laurant's next-door neighbors, two elderly sisters, are adorably ditzy. Other secondary characters add texture to this story. Nick's boss at the FBI, a psychiatrist, is a complex and nurturing individual. Laurant's best friend is an honest woman who isn't reticent about telling Laurant to jump Nick's bones. And the local sheriff is a pot-bellied doofus who's so inept that he's a pitiful loser.

But the most memorable secondary character is a rough and tumble FBI agent who adds comic relief. He's been assigned to guard Tom, so the FBI agent dresses as a priest himself. He's great when he teases Tom that he'd like to hear confessions and perform a few marriage ceremonies. What wouldn't surprise me is if he ends up starring in his own book. I hope so.

Garwood does a good job of balancing the intense moments with ones of comic lightness. Nick makes the accusation that Laurant's skirt is too short. A moment later he's backpedaling and comes up with a lame comment, trying to save the situation. Okay, he decides, her skirt's not too short; her legs are too long.

Julie Garwood's transition from historical fiction to romantic suspense is effortless. People who enjoyed reading her historical books will undoubtedly be pleased that her transition hasn't diluted the pleasure of reading her stories. Those who like romantic suspense will think they've found a gold mine. Heartbreaker will surely add readers to her ever-growing fan club.

--Linda Mowery


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