Relative Strangers by Joyce Lamb
(Five Star, $26.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-7862-3730-9
Margot Rhineheart is an expert thief and con woman. Unfortunately she makes a fatal mistake with her latest mark, Beau Kama - she falls in love with him. Slater Nielsen is Margotís boss and heís none too pleased about this latest development. Margot arrives at Beauís estate expecting to celebrate her birthday, only to find that Slater had a hit man shoot him in the head. She hastily calls 911, before fleeing the scene.

Meg Grant is a newspaper reporter who has just relocated to sunny Florida. Looking for a fresh start, sheís at the airport to pick up her visiting best friend - only to be accosted by handsome Ryan Kama. Ryan is still grieving for his dead brother, and having been shut out of the FBI investigation into his death, has been looking into the matter on his own. When he sees Meg in the airport, he immediately thinks sheís Margot.

Meg is shaken by the resulting confrontation with Ryan. Unfortunately, itís only the beginning of her problems. Ryan isnít the only one who thinks Meg is Margot - and Margot has quite a few unsavory characters looking for her.

Lambís debut romantic suspense novel is heady stuff; fast paced and exciting. With short chapters, non-stop action, and danger lurking around every corner, itís a race to the last chapter to see how everything works out.

Woman-In-Peril plots are not unfamiliar in the suspense genre. Several authors have built solid careers with them. What Lamb does is interesting - she gives the reader two very different women, puts them both in peril, and leads them on a collision course to the climatic finish. It also helps that while there is the occasional man riding to the rescue, theyíre pretty darn resourceful on their own.

Meg and Margot are both very interesting women. While itís fairly obvious early on the reason behind the case of mistaken identity, the author tosses a couple of twists insuring the action never gets dull. The body count is high, innocent lives get tangled into the mix, and the resolution is satisfying.

Relative Strangers does work better as a suspense novel than a romance. Naturally, the romance here is Meg and Ryan - who are soon spending quite a bit of time together. Not only does he thing Meg is Margot, but thereís also the small matter of some stolen emeralds. Unfortunately, it takes him a little too long to own up to the fact that Meg is really who she says she is. Plus, she forgives him a little readily, and tumbles into bed with him a little too easily for my liking.

That said, I couldnít help but think during my reading what a grand movie this story would make. Lambís debut is a prime summer beach book, with the non-stop action, a couple of sex scenes tossed into the mix, and a humdinger of a finish. Although, I canít help but think that Five Starís $26.95 price for a book that clocks in at less than 300 pages will turn more than a few potential readers off. Hopefully the author has a good agent hammering out a paperback deal.

--Wendy Crutcher

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