Shades of Gray

Acts of Honor by Vicki Hinze
(St. Martin's $5.99 G) ISBN 0-312-97273-3
I know authors like to begin their books with a hook to immediately grab the reader's attention, but the beginning of Acts of Honor was convoluted and confusing. Like reading a sequel without having read the original book. I kept jumping around the first two chapters in an attempt to get a handle on the action.

If I had not been reading this book for review, I might have given up and reached for something else. That would have been my loss, because by chapter three the action picks up more steam than a runaway train and Acts of Honor becomes difficult to put down.

Dr. Sara West is a Pensacola, Florida, psychiatrist specializing in patients with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. Although her treatment technique is controversial, no one can dispute her 80% success rate. It is that success, along with her bulldog-like tenacity to get the job done, that brings Air Force Colonel Jack Foster to her office with an enticing offer. If she agrees to help him, he will finally, after five long years, answer her questions regarding the mysterious death of her brother-in-law, Captain David Quade.

In return, Sara must agree to go undercover to Braxton, a secret military mental health facility. There she will pretend to be an Air Force Major who has been assigned to the facility to treat five patients suffering from PTSD. Colonel Foster is most concerned with one specific patient, a member of his top secret Shadow Watchers team. The Shadow Watchers are an elite group whose purpose is to spy on spies.

Sara does not receive a warm welcome at Braxton. Dr. Franklin Fontaine, the facility director, disapproves of her treatment methods and makes her life miserable every step of the way. It doesn't take Sara long to discover Braxton is not your typical mental health facility and once one enters, patient or staff, they are never permitted to leave. Ever.

One patient, known as Joe, joins forces with Sara to uncover Braxton's secrets. Although their relationship evolves from doctor-patient to lovers, the romantic elements in this story are virtually nonexistent. The focus here is clearly on the suspense. If it's romantic suspense you crave, with the emphasis on romance, this is not the book for you.

Acts of Honor is a fast paced tale filled with enough unexpected twists and turns to give the reader whiplash. The characters are strong and intelligent. I especially liked Sara, whose reactions to the dangerous and frightening situations in which she finds herself are always realistic.

My only complaint is the style of writing Vicki Hinze employs. She jumps right into a scene, perhaps in an effort to build the suspense, but it often became confusing. I'd find myself suddenly lost and forced to re-read previous paragraphs in order to discern what I'd missed. Only to discover the piece of information I needed doesn't even appear until AFTER the spot where I originally became lost.

There were also several inexplicable details in my advanced reading galley that really jumped out at me. Particularly a scene where a straight jacketed character runs his hand through his hair. I'm no expert on straightjackets (thank goodness!), but I'm reasonably certain running your hand through your hair would be a physical impossibility. It's those little things that drive me crazy and hopefully will be addressed in the final edit.

These concerns aside, Acts of Honor is a compelling military thriller that kept this reviewer, who normally is not a fan of military books, glued to her copy long into the early hours of the morning.

--Karen Lynch

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