Lady Liberty by Vicki Hinze
(Bantam, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-553-58352-2
I am not happy with this book. I am an older lady who needs her sleep. I cannot afford to stay up until 3:00 in the morning. Yet there I was the other night, still awake at that ungodly hour, desperately trying to finish Lady Liberty. And when I finally turned the light out, I was still thinking about the story and what it says about the dangerous world we and technology have created. I didn’t sleep well that night.

Lady Liberty is probably being slotted as “romantic suspense,” but this isn’t the correct designation. Rather, I would call it a “romantic thriller.” In a suspense novel, the situation is serious but the stakes are limited: a few bodies here and there and a palpable threat, usually to the heroine. In this book, the stakes are much, much higher. How about the survival of the human race?

“Lady Liberty” is the code name for Sybil Stone, the first female vice president of the United States. Unlike most veeps, who spend their time attending state funerals, Sybil has become a player in foreign affairs. As the book opens, she is involved in delicate peace negotiations between two former Soviet republics, both nuclear powers. She gets an unexpected call from the president, and suddenly she is on her way back to the United States. The brief case she locks onto her arm contains something that she must get to Washington within 72 hours in order to avert a catastrophe.

The man in charge of her security is super agent, Jonathan Westford, the best operative of the highly secret Special Detail Unit. Jonathan had been Sybil’s security chief right after her election, but he had asked for a transfer. Sybil thought he wanted a more exciting job, but the truth is that Jonathan had fallen in love with the then-married vice president. He knew that his feelings could interfere with his ability to do his job. But the president had asked Jonathan to take charge of the security during these important meetings.

The president knew that Sybil needed the best because there are powerful forces at work who want to make sure that she doesn’t succeed in her peace making mission. Among the most likely suspects are PUSH and Ballast, both terrorist organizations whose agendas seem driven by power and money rather than ideology. Indeed, we soon discover that Ballast is willing to do almost anything to prevent Sybil from succeeding.

This “anything” includes blowing up her plane on the way back to the United States. But Jonathan’s razor sharp instincts sniff out danger, and he manages to get the v.p. off the plane, even if there is only one parachute. Sybil and Jonathan find themselves fleeing for their lives through the Everglades, as Ballast agents try to finish the job.

The thriller plot is Byzantine in its complexity, but what counts is that Hinze is able to sustain the suspense right up to the end. There is a sizable cast of characters - politicians, bureaucrats, newspaper reporters, spies, terrorists, mad scientists and so on. It took me a couple of chapters to get a handle on all the characters. I don’t read many thrillers, but I have a feeling that the plot, though well done, is pretty standard for the genre. I am not competent to determine if the technological aspects of the story are credible, but I can assure you that the actions and attitudes of the characters ring true.

I called Lady Liberty a “romantic thriller” and, while the romance is not what had me turning the pages, it is nicely done. Sybil’s husband had betrayed her so grievously that she was willing to divorce him, even though this caused her serious political damage. She has promised the president that she will not become romantically involved and did not find this hard since she has come to distrust her own instincts when it comes to men. She has known Jonathan for years, but always saw him solely as an agent. The dangers they share make her look at him differently, and she likes what she sees very much.

We already know that Jonathan is in love with Sybil but that he believes his love is hopeless. As the two grow closer as they try to make their way back to Washington and to prevent the looming catastrophe, he comes to see that perhaps they have a future, if anyone has a future.

Characters in thrillers are often larger than life and such is the case here. Except for her insecurity about men, Sybil is almost too perfect: beautiful, bright, tough, strong, and, oh yes, she cares about kids. Maybe the first woman vice president will have to be superwoman, but Sybil is almost beyond belief. Jonathan is the prototypical super agent, an American James Bond. The two are well matched.

Clearly Lady Liberty held this reader’s interest. I knew that the world wasn’t going to blow up at the end, but Hinze managed to create the sense of impending doom and danger that kept me on the edge of my seat. Yet the book also has the hallmarks of a romance to satisfy my particular reading preferences. And I still haven’t caught up with my sleep.

--Jean Mason

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