Lord of the Keep

Lord of the Mist

Virtual Desire

Virtual Heaven

Virtual Warrior

Do You Believe? by Ann Lawrence
(Tor, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-765-3488-8
Nope. Sorry, Ms. Lawrence, I didn’t believe.

Rose Early is in England, looking for her sister, Joan. Both are photographers whose paths have led them in different directions. Rose took over her father’s studio and concentrates on family portraits. Joan is a globe-trotter, styling herself a photojournalist, but actually producing glossy coffee table books.

Working on one of those projects, a book about religious art, Joan drops out of sight. Worried about the odd tone of Joan’s recent emails, Rose flies to England. She finds that, before disappearing, her sister paid for a month at the B&B where she was staying and left a carton hidden at the back of a broom closet.

The carton contains some of the pictures Joan took, and a horror novel written by V.F. Drummond entitled “Do You Believe In Evil?” Joan has covered the book in handwritten notes, ending with the words “I believe.”

Curious, Rose seeks out the author, who is something of a local celebrity and is staying in the cottage of his recently deceased aunt. When Rose goes to the cottage, she’s brushed off by a man who says he’s the gardener. Deciding to talk to as many of the locals as she can, in an attempt to discover her sister’s whereabouts, Rose discovers that the ‘gardener’ is actually author Vic Drummond.

When he realizes who Rose is, Vic is intrigued. Suddenly, everywhere she goes, there he is, looking sexy and dangerous, and making it increasingly clear that he wouldn’t be averse to a little recreational sex while she’s in town. While he’s trying to lure Rose into bed, Vic finds himself in the midst of her search and soon some rather odd and inexplicable things are happening to both of them.

According to the cover copy, the two important questions at the heart of this book are: ‘does real evil exist?’ and ‘does real love exist?’ Unfortunately, the author can’t make a convincing case for either.

Let’s start with the first question. Although the bucolic country village is often a good choice for a story like this because of the contrast it makes with the evil seething beneath the surface, this book is a seethe-free zone. The author occasionally gives a dire hint of wicked behavior behind the scenes, but she doesn’t create a total atmosphere – the kind that imbues the most innocent-seeming events and conversations with malevolent undertones. The hints are dropped in, but they disappear without a ripple; there’s no sense of build.

In fact, the paranormal element is so unconvincing, I thought until very late in the book that there would turn out to be a rational explanation for what was happening.

In addition, there’s no sense of immediate danger to either Rose or Vic until very, very late in the book. For the first three-quarters of the story, they’re doing their investigative thing, but whether they discover too much or too little, there are no consequences. There’s no sense that Joan’s life is in danger if they don’t find her; in fact, she’s portrayed as the kind of person who might just take off without any thought to her sister’s peace of mind. Rose and Vic are concerned, but what’s the worst that happens if they don’t get answers? Um, well, Rose has to keep wondering. Not exactly edge-of-the-seat stuff.

The lack of characterization doesn’t help. Before the book is a third over, we know just about everything about Rose and Vic that we’re going to find out. Rose is a talented photographer, but a bit of a martyr, a bit of a victim, lacking in confidence. Vic’s answer to just about every question is ‘let’s have sex.’

Let’s face it; if more women found that approach charming, there’d be a lot fewer romance novels sold.

The characters do have quite a bit of sex, but there’s not much emotional connection between Vic and Rose. This makes their relationship more about lust than love, and the sex more mechanical than erotic.

In fact, the whole book has a faintly paint-by-numbers feel about it. If the author feels strong about either evil or love, she didn’t manage to put it in this book.

-- Judi McKee

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