Smoke and Mirrors by Jenna Mills
(Silh. Int. Mom. #1146, $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-27216-2
***
Derek and Brent Mansfield are the grandsons of the founder of the prestigious Sterling Manor Hotel in Chicago. The Feds and the Chicago Police have put together a compelling case, based on circumstantial evidence, linking Derek to the international drug dealer, Vilas. Detective Cassidy Blake and her partner have been undercover for six months in the hotel.

Cass has been a widow for five years, not nearly long enough to even begin healing her grief from the loss of her husband and small son. She blames herself, since underneath the apparent accident that took their lives is the awareness that it was retribution aimed at her.

Derek is a driven man, loved by few, used by many, and at this point in his life unwilling to risk himself in any relationship that has meaning. Cass meets Derek when he rescues her from a group of drunken hotel guests with rape on their minds. It doesn’t take him long to learn that Cass is fearless; he later learns that it is because she feels she has nothing left to lose. Both parties are instantly attracted to each other.

The author handles that growth in Cass in a realistic and pragmatic way. She starts with the concept of the two sides of Cass, cop and woman. Initially, she balances the sides well and only as the novel develops is Cass able to merge the two as the police investigation progresses.

There is much to praise in debut author Jenna Mills’ effort. Her characters are developed slowly, but with a keen awareness of the complexity of human nature. Sexual tension is maintained at an incredibly high level with a thought to its many faces - poignancy, vulnerability, strength and lust.

In a few places the dialogue is weak and sometime repetitive. However, the weakest link is the lack of transition from one scene to another. Often the change is so abrupt that you find yourself going back wondering what you had missed, or else trying to figure out what just happened as you read onward. This does leave a choppy, unsettling feel in the pacing of the story.

--Thea Davis


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