By Any Other Name

The Daddy Quest

A Sheriff in Tennessee

Mother of the Year

Rico

 
Blue Moon by Lori Handeland
(St. Martin’s, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-312-99134-7
****
Lori Handeland has been lurking around the romance scene for a number of years writing westerns and Harlequin SuperRomances. Having particularly enjoyed her westerns, I was a little heartbroken to discover she jumped ship to write a paranormal, werewolf series. While this reviewer tends to not “get” the vast appeal for these types of stories, I kept an open mind. Hey, the hero is Native American and his hunky chest is emblazoned on the cover! What’s not to love about that? Imagine my surprise when the romance thread barely registered a blip, and all the other stuff made Blue Moon a satisfying read.

Jessie McQuade is a police officer in backwoods Wisconsin. While having a voluptuous body, much to her mother’s chagrin, Jessie never outgrew her tomboy phase. Our girl wouldn’t know “girly” if it came up and bit her in the butt. She’s tough, sarcastic, good at her job, and the best darn hunter in the county. She’s also the narrator of our story, which is told entirely in first person. This story hinges on Jessie, and she’ll either make or break the book for readers. Personally, I loved her – finally a tough chick who doesn’t keep her gun in a cookie jar.

Jessie is patrolling one night when she gets wind of an accident – a local schoolteacher is bitten by a wolf. This is a strange occurrence, since wolves tend to stay far away from humans. Assuming it’s rabid, Jessie goes off to hunt it down, only to discover a naked man standing in the woods. Will Cadotte is a Native American activist who is teaching at the local college. Having met him under unusual circumstances, Jessie soon finds herself seeing even more of the man, when she must confer with him about a piece of evidence she finds at the scene of the accident – a Native American totem shaped like a wolf and bearing strange markings.

When the schoolteacher is later shot dead, after killing the school principal and frothing pink foam out of her mouth, the town begins to panic. A “wolf hunter” is brought in to thin out the wolves carrying this strain of “super rabies” and Jessie is left to cart the man around. But what of the naked Will Cadotte and the strange totem?

Handeland takes some big risks with Blue Moon, and for the most part they really pay off. For readers on the lookout for something different, this is really a fantastic read. Sure Jessie has the ubiquitous “mommy baggage” of many romance heroines, but our girl never wallows. She’s too busy kicking butt to worry about why mommy doesn’t love her. However, her mother’s rejection has instilled a loner sensibility in her, which makes her tomboy personality very interesting. Sure she’s a cop, and sure she can shoot better than most men, but Handeland is quick to point out that this doesn’t make Jessie any less of a woman. When she begins her affair with Cadotte, it’s enough to burn up the pages.

It’s also notable that the author goes the first person narrative route, which is rather unconventional by romance standards. She does an admirable job with it, and it helps that Jessie has a sarcastic voice and self-deprecating humor. She’s charming and funny, while being tough. It’s an interesting blend.

The werewolf aspect of the story is also very interesting, with Handeland mixing in 20th century history and Native American legend. Frankly, it’s quite creative and history buffs should get a kick out of Handeland’s theory.

What doesn’t work so well is the romance, mainly because there is so little time devoted to it. In fact, it’s the least interesting thing about this story. Jessie and Will don’t talk; in fact there really isn’t much of a “getting to know you” phase of their romance. Some of their baggage is aired out towards the end, but up until that point it’s all about the totem and the hot sex that they have. There’s also the small matter of trust – Jessie doesn’t know who she can trust when the werewolf thing goes down – which means she doesn’t trust Will. Call me cynical, but if she doesn’t trust the man why does she keep losing her brains and screwing him? For such a smart girl, for her to keep losing control of herself and sleeping with Cadotte was a little insulting.

Ultimately it all boils down to what the reader wants. The romance here is a little lackluster, but everything else about Blue Moon is really top notch. Handeland writes snappy dialogue, and Jessie’s wry voice gives this story it’s own unique stamp. Sure there have been other werewolf books, and there will likely be countless others, but Handeland’s skill with first person narrative sets this book up several notches. For readers who want an imaginative take on the werewolf legend, and enjoy first person narration, this is a story not to be missed.

--Wendy Crutcher


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