All the Queen's Men

A Bouquet of Babies

Cry No More

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Dying to Please

A Game of Chance

Killing Time

Kiss Me While I Sleep

Mr Perfect

Now You See Her

Open Season

Strangers of the Night

To Die For

Under the Boardwalk

Up Close and Dangerous

Death Angel
by Linda Howard
(Ballantine, $26.00, R) ISBN 0-345-4865-7
Donít assume the four-heart rating on this review means, as it usually does, that Iím recommending this book. Iím not. Iím saying that there isnít a rating thatís more accurate. One heart: donít bother? Well, itís not that bad. Two hearts: think twice? Yes, you might want to do that. Three hearts: acceptable? Too wishy-washy. Five hearts: a keeper? Iíd be lying through my teeth.

This is a love-it-or-hate-it book. I did some of both.

Drea Rousseau (her real name is Andrea Butts but she thinks this is classier) is the mistress of Rafael Salinas, a drug kingpin. She insists a mistress is not a whore. (Sheís in it for the bling and the bucks. You decide.) For two years she has done little all day except hang around Salinasís New York apartment looking decorative, acting stupid, and being available whenever Salinas is in the mood.

Salinas is meeting with the Assassin; heís used his professional services in the past. (The Assassin is known only by his occupation for the first half of the novel.) Salinas wants to reward the Assassin for a job well done. What does he want? One hundred thousand dollars? ďI want her.Ē Only once.

Drea cannot believe that Salinas will agree to give her to the Assassin, but he does. Drea is terrified, but the Assassin is careful and a fantastic lover and Drea is very needy. The ďonly onceĒ takes four hours. (Yes, four hours!) At the end, Drea begs the Assassin to take her with him. He tells her that once was enough.

Drea is shattered. To disguise her despair, she lies to Salinas. He believes that she is in love with him and the Assassin didnít touch her. Drea is not ready to forgive Salinas. She arranges the electronic transfer of two million dollars into her own account and takes off. Salinas contacts the Assassin and hires him to track her down and kill her.

On the run, Drea learns her plans werenít as clever as sheíd believed: itís not all that easy to waltz into a bank and walk out with two million dollars. Sheís forced to alter her plans somewhat, and the Assassin is on her trail and getting closer and closer.

Before I go any farther in this review, I need to make this perfectly clear: I donít expect fictional characters to be as pure as the driven snow. Hey, Iím been a devoted fan of Lee Childís Jack Reacher and Barry Eislerís John Rain novels for years. (Check out my reviews at The Mystery Reader if you donít believe me.) Theyíre emotionally stunted and morally compromised, but they still have me rooting for them page after page. If they were to die, Iíd grieve. So why donít I give the same leeway to Drea Rousseau and whats-his-name, the Assassin? Iíve been working on that question for several days, and I think Iíve figured it out.

Jack Reacher and John Rain have been emotionally isolated for most of their lives. They make human connections very reluctantly. Jack Reacherís mother called him ďReacherĒ while addressing his brother by his first name. What kind of Mom doesnít even call her kid by his given name (which she probably gave him)? As everyone whoís taken Psych 101 knows, itís always Momís fault. John Rain is multi-racial and was never accepted by either culture. That may not be an excuse, but itís an explanation. These are characters who have convinced me they act from some kind of antisocial core that is beyond their control. They canít do better because theyíre doing the best they can.

Back to Death Angel. Drea Rousseau had some tough breaks, but thereís a lot of that going around. She hasnít tried to be any better than she absolutely has to be and sheís an accomplished master (or should I say ďmistressĒ) at rationalizing her behavior . The Assassin was born in Germany Ė his father served in the military Ė and some people deserve killing. Well, forgive me for not being persuaded. Shouldnít there be something more than great sex to make these two the hero and heroine? Like some guilt? Some remorse? (Interestingly, the only character who suffers those is the drug dealing scumbag Salinas.) There is one moving scene where the Assassin is in a hospital chapel that shows he cares more for Drea than heís wanted to acknowledge even to himself.

Itís when the Assassin catches up to Drea that the story takes a sudden turn. The only hint Iíll give you is whatís been announced by the publisher: this is Linda Howardís first paranormal fiction since Dream Man. The title Death Angel may have been chosen as a reflection of the earlier bookís title.

Linda Howard has come a long way as an author since she began writing formulaic category romances. Her plots are original and varied; her character development is deeper. Death Angel is edgier than many of her books but is not a complete departure; the earlier Kiss Me While I Sleep was in much the same vein. Death Angel is far from her best book (Iíd bestow that honor on Open Season), but itís unusual and mostly well-written. Its main weakness is the generally unsympathetic hero and heroine. Nevertheless, if youíre one of her many fans, youíre going to want to read it. One thingís for certain: you wonít be forgetting it.

--Lesley Dunlap

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