Shades of Gray by Vicki Hinze
(St. Martin's,$5.99, PG) ISBN 0-312-96610-5
I was much more confused than entertained by Shades of Gray. This book just screams: rewrite. The story line has too many inconsistencies, too much backtracking and, in the end, it leaves too many questions unanswered.

Laura Taylor and Jake Logan have been friends for more than a decade, since they both did survival training as Air Force Special Operatives. Laura has always been there for Jake and his little boy, Timmy, all through Jake's disastrous marriage. Jake's ex-wife, Madeline, drinks and is neglectful of Timmy's welfare.

Not being able to have children of her own, Laura has always considered Timmy to be the son of her heart, and she wants to be his mother and take care of him. So when Jake is concerned about losing Timmy to Madeline in a custody battle, Laura offers to marry him so that he will stand a better chance of gaining custody.

Jake agrees but only after he makes it clear that he and Laura will never have a real marriage. Laura is fine with this since she can't imagine ever being in love with Jake and it's only her love for Timmy that prompts her to make the offer.

Two years pass. Timmy is now calling Laura "Mom," and both Jake and Laura want more from each other than friendship. But Jake has just been assigned to a highly dangerous mission involving a secret organization that is amassing a biological warfare arsenal. Because his chances of surviving this mission are not very good, Jake feels loving Laura or allowing her to love him would be a terrible mistake.

And there is evidence which indicates the leader of this organization may be an ex-operative. When Jake finds Laura's picture in the hands of a dead member of the organization, he and his superiors begin to wonder if Laura might be involved.

There is no doubt in my mind that a heterosexual man and woman can have a platonic friendship for many years. I have, and have had, more than of few male friends and I treasure these friendships, just as I do my friendships with women. Still, I had difficulty understanding the longtime relationship between Jake and Laura. Probably because neither Jake nor Laura seems to understand their relationship.

At first, Jake mentions that Laura isn't the type of woman a man immediately falls for, but five paragraphs later Jake remembers having a few fantasies about Laura when they shared a sleeping bag during survival training. And, he says that any man would have those fantasies because, "Laura's a beautiful woman. Inside and out." Laura is a beautiful woman: slender with auburn hair. She seems exactly like the type of woman men fall for immediately and it seems like Jake did a little falling.

Question: If you were jealous of your husband's female friend would you allow her to be present at your baby's birth? Answer: I don't think so. Madeline is, and was, always jealous of Jake and Laura's relationship, yet we are told that Laura was one of the first persons to hold Timmy just moments after Madeline gave birth. How did that happen?

Also, early in the story, Laura tells us that Madeline "deliberately" got pregnant and, much later in the story, she informs us that Jake only married Madeline because Laura encouraged him to do so. According to Laura, Jake never loved Madeline. So why does Laura spend so much time during this book wondering whether or not Jake will ever love her the way he loved Madeline?

Of course, Jake doesn't seem to spend much time thinking about the women in his life and whether or not they are trustworthy. He has no problem with questioning the woman who has been his best friend for thirteen years, a woman he cares deeply about and who is currently the primary caretaker for his son, about her loyalty to her country. This is considered routine and Laura, although hurt by it, accepts this questioning as routine.

So treason is no big deal but to actually love Laura or allow her to return that love would be the worst, most terrible thing that could happen. Jake tells us this over and over again. And, noble, self-sacrificing Laura, would never dream of violating their pre-nup by mentioning her own feelings of love for Jake. This kind of logic makes no sense to me.

For instance, it made little sense that Laura was so willing to forgo a real marriage for the rest of her life until somewhere in the middle of the book the author mentions that Jake saved Laura's life during their survival training. For me, this kind of backtracking frustrates more than it helps.

Shades of Grey is another one of those books where if the hero and heroine would just sit down for five minutes and talk, the conflict concerning the romance would be over. Sometimes the author tries to explain the inexplicable by throwing in more facts in the middle, or the end, of the book.

This is a very confusing tale. But perhaps the most puzzling thing of all is why the neither the author nor her editor noticed these problems and corrected them.

--Judith Flavell

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