Blue Moon

By Any Other Name

Crescent Moon

The Daddy Quest

Dark Moon

A Sheriff in Tennessee

Mother of the Year

Rico

 
Midnight Moon
by Lori Handeland
(St. Martin’s; $6.99; PG-13) ISBN 0-312-93849-7
****
I’m behind the curve when it comes to Lori Handeland; only the fact that I’ve never read one of her books before made this one such a pleasant surprise. I was particularly pleased and impressed that she managed to make a story about voodoo, zombies, were-creatures and magic more believable than many books that take place in the so-called ‘real world.’

After turning state’s evidence against her drug-dealer husband following the murder of their daughter, a woman enters the Witness Protection program and reinvents herself as Voodoo Priestess Cassandra. Cassandra has strong voodoo talent and becomes convinced that she can raise her daughter from the dead – not as a mindless zombie, but as a real, living human being.

There are some difficulties with achieving this, of course. Only a bokor or evil priest raises the dead, which means that not only must Cassandra find a bokor to help her, but that if she succeeds, she will become a bokor herself. This is a price Cassandra is more than willing to pay. The second challenge will be to find the bokor in Haiti who is thought to possess the knowledge she needs to bring her daughter back to life.

Fortunately, Cassandra belongs to an organization – the Jäger-Sucher or Hunter-Searchers – the purpose of which is to hunt monsters (such as werewolves). Her boss wants a curse removed, but the only person who can lift a curse is the person who performed it in the first place, and unfortunately she’s been dead for a hundred and fifty years. While Cassandra is learning how to raise the dead for her boss, she hopes to discover what she needs to know to bring her daughter back to life.

When Cassandra arrives in Haiti, she discovers that the only person willing to take her into the mountains to find the bokor is the mysterious – and sexy – Devon Murphy. Devon doesn’t believe in all the woo-woo stuff, so Cassandra is careful not to tell him why she wants to make the trip, and Devon has a few problems of his own, which might explain some of the little difficulties they run into getting out of town. But soon Devon is experiencing things he can’t explain away.

Fast-paced and loaded with atmosphere, this book is a treat for the senses. The author does a really nice job of building and maintaining the story’s momentum and suspense, and she is completely faithful to the world and the characters she has created.

If Cassandra feels a bit like the standard chick-lit character (wise cracking, irreverent and headstrong) she is saved from being a cliché by the fact that she is ballsy and motivated by something more compelling than scoring her next pair of Jimmy Choos. I would have liked to see a bit more of the anguish that drives her to want to resurrect her daughter, though. I believe in the strength and power of a mother’s love, but I never felt as if I saw enough depth to justify the extreme lengths to which Cassandra was willing to go.

What was excellent, though, was the author’s ability to consistently evoke the horror movie audience reaction (no, no, don’t do it! Don’t….!) Not easy to accomplish in a book.

If Devon is also slightly generic (you know, gorgeous, cagey, cool, but steps up to the plate when the chips are down), their relationship is saved from being cookie-cutter by the lovely sparks they strike off each other. And they’re well suited in their mutual lack of b.s. and pretension. Cassandra doesn’t care what Devon does or doesn’t believe, for example – she knows what she knows. And while Devon starts out treating her as if she can’t take care of herself, he figures that mistake out pretty quickly, so he gets points for brains.

The author keeps the suspense going right to the end (no mean feat in romance). My one complaint about the resolution is that I would have preferred that Cassandra make a choice, but to say more would be a spoiler, and it’s a small quibble.

Light but spellbinding, this would be an excellent beach book – as long as you’re not responsible for the safety of small children.

-- Judi McKee


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