Close Encounters Merline Lovelace
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1439, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-275099
**
Close Encounters comes with a warning label: to enjoy this book to the fullest one must suspend all disbelief. Not only must readers accept a thinly drawn paranormal plot, but they also must accept the premise that a presidential special envoy group designated Omega will devote a part of their resources on a lone female who made several inquiries on the Internet about a ship that had been hit off California in the very early 1940’s. Unknown to the young woman at the time of her inquiries - the ship Kallister was refurbished and is now to carry a super secret cargo.

Agent Drew McDowell, code name “The Riever,” is dispatched to solve the problem. Tracy Brandt is the one making the inquiry. Tracy had been brought up by an aunt who lived next door to a kind man who became her “Uncle Jack.” Tracy had taken care of Uncle Jack during his final illness and had lost a lot of time from work. She had been fired from her job for these repeated absences. When Omega discovers she had worked for a defense contractor as a budget analyst and they became even more suspicious.

Omega resources find Tracy on Catalina Island, California. This place draws the reader back to the prologue to the ballroom at the Avalon Casino on a night when the singer Trixie Hallston is performing. In the audience is the same Uncle Jack with whom she was in love. On her way to meet him after the performance she is pushed off a balcony to die on the rocks below.

Tracy is taking a tour of the Avalon and Drew follows her there. She begins to act strangely and he finds her on the same balcony and saves her, as she is about to fall to the same rocks below. This is the intro he needs and as they become better acquainted he discovers Tracy’s need to find out what really happened to Trixie those many years ago. The police report analyzed the death as an accident with some drug use by the victim.

During the tour of the ballroom Tracy had heard the music played the night Trixie died, and the reader is beginning to realize that Tracy will morph into Trixie throughout the story. The clue for the change is always the dialog utilizing the slang of the 40’s. Even more Omega resources are called upon to analyze the mysterious appearance and disappearance of the famed Trixie.

The inevitable sexual tension between Tracy/Trixie and Drew ignites and runs in tandem with the search for Trixie’s killer. The search is not very complicated because most of the time is devoted to the morphing issue. The ending is one of those deus ex machina endings where the answer drops into place without warning. All in all, Close Encounters rates a ‘think twice’ rating.

--Thea Davis


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