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Body and Soul by Susan Krinard
(Bantam, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-553-56919-8
****
After a somewhat disappointing foray into time travel with her previous release, Twice a Hero, Susan Krinard returns to fine form in Body and Soul, which combines ghostly elements with a reincarnation theme. I've sampled this author's vampire, fantasy and time travel efforts, but I think this is her strongest romance to date.

Jesse Copeland lives an uneasy, lonely life in her childhood home of Manzanita, where she works for a search and rescue team. Eleven years ago, her mother died in a suspicious drowning accident, and Jesse blamed Gary Emerson, her mother's lover. But Gary was well-liked by the townspeople, and Jesse's wild accusations resulted in her being sent to a mental hospital. When she was released, she spent years drifting through the foster care system, then entered the Peace Corps. Now she has returned but so has Gary, who has chosen Manzanita as the launching pad for his State Assembly campaign.

After a tense reunion with Gary, Jesse vows to find the truth behind her mother's death. The reunion also causes Jesse to have a strange dream about a dark-haired man who evokes both love and hatred. She awakens to see a ghostly stranger wearing British 18th century military garb who is watching her intently. This turns out to be David Ventris, who has existed in limbo for 200 years, ever since his death at Waterloo. David knows that he has been called back to beg Jesse's forgiveness for the wrongs he did her centuries ago, when her soul inhabited the body of David's wife, Sophie. He needs to convince Jesse that he is real, but he pretends he doesn't remember his past, fearing her wrath if he tells her the truth that he was the indirect cause of Sophie's demise.

As Jesse confronts her past in this life and her previous one she comes to admire and depend on her ghostly visitor. David realizes that this version of Sophie is eminently more lovable than the former one. But David knows that the whole truth about their former relationship has to come out, and that Jesse will likely damn him to eternal perdition when it does. Meanwhile Jesse is determined to confront Gary even if it puts her life in danger.

Body and Soul features a tremendously appealing hero and heroine. Jesse is a misunderstood loner who comes out of her shell, reaches out to David and others and restores her damaged reputation when the truth about Gary finally emerges. David is similarly strong yet flawed, doing the right thing time and time again while convinced that he is acting out of selfish motives only. He handles his entry into the 20th century with remarkable aplomb and is not at all put out by Jesse's modern behavior.

I've read several romances that combined ghosts with reincarnation, but Krinard puts an interesting twist on the theme by making the past relationship between David and Jesse/Sophie less than ideal, and one that needs to be resolved before the lovers can be together. This is a nice change of pace from the usual "soul mates parted by tragic death" dynamic. Other characters are revealed to be figures from the past as well, leading to an extremely dramatic denouement where past and present converge.

During the last 50 pages of Body and Soul I had to excuse myself from the bosom of my family so I could read the ending without any interruptions. I was entirely caught up in the final confrontation and the resolution of the romance. Even Jesse's obligatory raging at the heavens for parting her from her true love sounded fresh and heart-wrenching in the author's skilled hands.

Susan Krinard seems firmly committed to exploring a variety of paranormal themes. After reading this novel, I hope she will revisit the ghostly motif again. It suits her talents and makes for a highly recommended read.

--Susan Scribner


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