The Daughter Merger

Jack Murray, Sheriff

His Partner's Wife by Janice Kay Johnson
(Harl. Superromance #998, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-70998-6
(Harl. Superromance #998, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-70998-6 4 hearts His Partner's Wife isn't glitzy, complex or ground-breaking. In its own way, it's better because it doesn't need to rely on flash, embellishment or extremes. The best analogy I can come up with is that this story is like your comfortable pair of shoes, the ones you cherish after you've taken off your sexy, killer high heels. Sometimes comfortable and solid is a wonderfully pleasant change of pace.

This is the first of a trilogy about the McLeans, three brothers who are all in law enforcement. The author tells us that she decided to explore the scenario of a cop's widow who discovers that her husband was a corrupt cop. "Bad enough to be widowed, but what if much of your life together had been a lie?" This is a fascinating premise that's handled skillfully and with enough anguish to make it credible but not fall into the angst pit.

Walking into her home may never be the same again for Natalie Reed. Going past her late husband's den, she stops and does a mental double take. Has she really just seen a man lying in the den? With a great big hole in the back of his head? Rather than be a superwoman and investigate the crime, Natalie has the common sense to get out. While she's waiting at a neighbor's house for the police to arrive, she's hoping that John McLean will be one of the investigating officers. John was her late husband's partner and has become very important to her in the past year.

John, a divorced father with custody of his two children, has been Natalie's handyman and friend for the last year. It's easy to convince her to spend the night at his place rather than remain in her home which is now the crime scene. Natalie likes John's mother and his two kids, so staying with him is a good plan. However, knowing that she can't stay with him indefinitely, she makes herself go home as soon as she can.

Bad move. An intruder wakes her up in the middle of the night!

Now the mystery begins. Why was a man murdered in her home? Why did somebody come back? What do the bad guys want? What's in her house that they're searching for?

Janice Kay Johnson does a superb job of meshing John and Natalie's romance with the external conflict. As events unfold, exposing Natalie's husband as a crooked cop, she turns to John for support. She begins to question her ability to judge people, then wonders if John's recent attention is really a ruse to determine if she was involved.

John, who has never doubted Natalie's honesty, does have issues of his own. Will Natalie be ready to accept a relationship with another policeman? Will the fact that he's a single parent with an ex-wife who's ill and needs his help be a deterrent? Their mutual self-doubt is handled with realism, yet is not overpowering nor is it allowed to dominate or sidetrack the plot.

An compelling secondary plot deals with John's mother. She helps him with his children, and when John notices that she's reprimanding his five-year-old son too strongly, has to put aside his role as dutiful son and become an advocate for his son. Here's a taste of a wonderful scene at the dining table between grandmother and grandson.

When she brings food to the table, he exclaims, "At last!"
She's explaining to him that being impatient and expressing it can be rude.
"You need to learn to think Ďat last,' not say it. That's the secret to good manners."
His forehead crinkled. "You mean, I can be really rude, just to myself?"

His Partner's Wife really is a meat and potatoes kind of book. The characters are rock-solid and are basically just you and me, trying to live the best life we can. It's a refreshing change of pace, a nice slice of Americana.

--Linda Mowery

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