The Deepest Edge
As Gena Hale:

Paradise Island

Sun Valley

The Kissing Blades by Jessica Hall
(Signet, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-20946-X
This book Ė reportedly the third in a trilogy Ė suffers from sequel-itis: that condition whereby a book in a series is so dependent on its predecessors that readers who have not read the earlier books have difficulty figuring out everything thatís going on. In The Kissing Blades everyone has history from before Ė the hero kidnapped the heroine for some vague reason but she doesnít seem to be carrying any grudge about it, multiple characters from earlier books are nearly as prominent as the hero and heroine (maybe they should be more properly termed protagonists) in this one, and the poor reader is left to muddle through on the flimsiest of background information. In other words, I donít think readers who havenít read the first two books will want to start The Kissing Blades.

Kameko Sayura is a jewelry designer and retailer. She leaves her shop to make a bank deposit locking in her sixteen-year-old assistant. When she returns, Tara has disappeared, and a sword is stuck in her desk. A phone call informs Meko that she must recover some special Japanese swords or Tara will be killed.

Meko, whose late father was a notorious crime figure, notifies the police but does not tell them about the phone call or the motive for Taraís abduction. (Why do heroines repeatedly withhold information from the police that only worsen their situation?) The police, understandably, cannot figure out what has happened or why. (Theyíre not the only ones. I was confused, too.) They arrest Meko for Taraís murder even though they have no evidence that Tara is dead.

Ignoring the conditions of her bail, Meko goes off in search of Sean Delaney, a shadowy figure retired from military intelligence. (Itís not enough that this book is overrun by characters from earlier books in the series: Sean is the uncle of the heroine in Sun Valley, part of yet another trilogy written under the name Gena Hale.) Prior to the time of this story, Sean had kidnapped Meko (does it strike you that there seems to be a lot of kidnapping going on?), but she still has lingering feelings for him. She tracks him down at a dairy farm in northern California where she discovers him passed out drunk. Before she can say much more than Ďhi,í their reunion turns passionate and intimate.

Meanwhile, prominent figures in the intelligence and military community are becoming highly suspicious of mysterious happenings that seem to indicate tong Ė Asian criminal gang Ė activity. They, too, are searching for the swords that may have encoded information on them. And if that werenít enough, Mekoís brothers and others are looking for them too.

A positive aspect of this book is the heroine who isnít a dewy-eyed youngster. Sheís forty years old and has some life experience behind her. But in classic almost-a-virgin fashion, it hasnít been all she might have wanted Ė sheís been the victim of her delicate stature. After she and Sean engage in some rapid-fire sex, Meko is glad that at long last a man isnít treating her like a fragile doll. (Thatís how we know right off that Sean is the Right One Ė he gives great orgasms.) Itís also a positive that sheís Asian-American instead of the white bread heroine with northern European ancestry.

I appreciate a story with strong female characters such as Raven, the heroine from The Steel Caress, who is continuing her supermodel career while working as an intelligence operative and experiencing the debilitating effects of morning sickness. No wilting violet she!

And thatís it for the positives.

Sean is a problematic hero. Itís hard to call the conversion from drunken bum to super-stud very romantic. Furthermore, heís got some hang-up on a woman from his past who may or not be dead, but he canít resist the allure of Meko. I liked Meko and thought she deserved better.

The plot is crowded and convoluted. I was lost the moment Meko returns from the bank and finds Tara missing, and I never figured out who was doing what or why. The story ricochets repeatedly from one group of characters to another with virtually no transition. This is a book that would benefit from a Cliff Notes to help give readers some understanding. Perhaps if Iíd read the earlier books of the two trilogies, I could make some sense out of it, but The Kissing Blades left me with no desire to backtrack and fill in the gaping holes.

With so much frenetic action going on, character development is minimal. Readers who want to feel they know more than superficialities of the characters will be disappointed. Characters are good guys or bad guys, and thatís about as deep as it gets.

If youíve read the previous books by this author under both names, you might want to check out The Kissing Blades. I advise everyone else to pass on by.

--Lesley Dunlap

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