Sand Pirates by Ellis Hoff
(Ponder, $5.25, G) ISBN 0-9681587-2-2
**
Ponder Publishing, a Canadian publishing house, is the new kid on the block. They're offering a brand-new line of romance books, always a welcome addition. Still, as much as I wanted to recommend Sand Pirates, if for nothing more than to promote a new romance publisher, I just couldn't do it. Too many things slowed the pace of my reading.

Sand Pirates has the feel of a Harlequin Presents or Harlequin Romance. The setting is Sava, a small fictitious Caribbean island, under Dutch rule. The hero is a Dutch policeman or Burgomaster. There's an exotic, strangely removed flavor to the whole story.

A dreamlike sequence begins the story, done in present tense. Petra Logan, an American banking heiress, is on Lake Superior when a sudden storm appears and capsizes her boat. Her next memory is waking up on the beach, with a man bending over her, claiming to have saved her life.

Fast forward one year to the island of Sava. Petra, hurrying to reach her cruise ship before it leaves, is stopped by the local police. All of her identification is on the ship, which is convenient for Frans Vondel, Burgomaster a.k.a. Interpol agent. Petra is unaware that she's up to her neck in deceit and intrigue.

Petra has just ended her engagement to Clark Martin. They were on the cruise with the idea of establishing intimacy, but Petra broke it off after an eye-opening argument when Clark lambasted her for her lack of sexual response. Clark's true reason for the cruise is to do away with Petra, who has come too close to discovering his heavy-duty money laundering and skimming of accounts at her father's bank. Clark flubbed his last attempt when Petra didn't die a year ago.

Vondel plans on using Petra for bait. Clark Martin is small fish compared to Martin's boss, who's been the lead suspect in a five-year investigation. Vondel hopes that Martin and his boss will come to Sava. Then they'll be arrested, and the case will be closed. Of course, nothing's ever that easy. The bulk of the story concerns Petra as she deals with her feelings for Vondel. We only find out the progression of the case from Vondel's point of view. Petra is basically clueless for most of the book.

Ponder Publishing advertises that a " Ponder heroine should be a woman every reader wishes she could be, partly because her man is so wonderful and partly because they have no trouble understanding her and her motives." I'm not sure that I related well to Petra, a thirty-two-year-old woman who's still searching for something meaningful in her life. With daddy's endorsement, she's been engaged to Clark the jerk for over a year, but has yet to be intimate with him. While her subconscious may have blocked the memory of him trying to kill her, now we know why she's never been comfortable, sexually or otherwise, with him.

Ponder also advertises "the Ponder hero is a man every woman could want." Amen to that one. Frans is a rock-solid, sexy, exciting hero. Watching his transformation as he begins to care about Petra is what kept me reading.

Sand Pirates has some problems. Let's start with the characters. Aside from Petra and Frans, everybody is outlandish. Clark is a joke. He's not so dangerous as he is laughable. The really bad guy who's been a suspect for five years doesn't seem all that threatening. It's amazing that he's evaded the authorities for all these years. The local thugs are such bozos that they're several bricks short of a load.

What bothered me most was that we never see Petra and Frans falling in love. Lust, sure, but they're too busy working on the plot to show much character development. Very little background information is given about them. When Frans proposes at the end, it's almost anticlimactic. We've been given no reason to believe that these two can live happily ever after on their tiny little island.

The writing itself occasionally stopped me:

"Clark scoured the crowd as he made his way to the pier. They (his alarmingly unfaithful fiancée and the blonde ape she couldn't seem to keep her hands off of) had been heading towards it when Clark was detained by the disgruntled island misfits."

Or:

"Its not working!"she snapped.
The lack of an apostrophe jumped out.

Or this staccato writing:

The telephone.
Had it been ringing?
Frans opened his eyes. Moonlight. Half-light. Breathing, not his own. Warmth. Skin. Hair.
Lots of hair.

On a final note, five dollars and twenty-five cents for a book of 216 pages is more like Canadian pricing. The price may give some people pause.

I had to keep remembering to separate the publishing company and this story as I wrote. Ponder's fate doesn't depend on this one book. I do want them to succeed. I just have a feeling that Sand Pirates won't be their breakout book.

--Linda Mowery


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