Just Before Sunrise

Kiss the Moon

Night Scents

A Rare Chance

White Hot

On Fire by Carla Neggers
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-541-7
The energy level of On Fire reminds me of a family reunion of Roadrunners with members streaking hither and yon at breakneck speeds, with the added touch of dialogue heavily peppered with sarcasm. Often, the humor is discordant as the novel proceeds relentlessly to its conclusion

To the author's credit, the plot obviously required some research into the world of oceanography. The "grandfather "of the discipline, Emile Labreque, had been part of a team that outfitted an old minesweeper for ocean research. As the book opens, the minesweeper is sinking. Emile, his granddaughter, Riley St. Joe, and the ship's captain, Sam Cassain, all escape with their lives. But crewmembers and Bennett Granger, who had been Emile’s partner in putting the ship in the water, are lost.

Everyone blames Emile for the sinking except Riley. This includes the media, Emile's entire family, and the families and friends of those who died. The blame is sufficient to force Emile to go into seclusion at his retreat in Maine. A virtual recluse, he nonetheless offers sanctuary on an island off the coast to an old friend of the family, John Straker, an FBI agent bordering on post-traumatic stress syndrome from bullet wounds received in the line of duty.

During a visit to her grandfather a year after the sinking, Riley decides to "get back on the water" and kayaks over to the island. She and Straker have been life-long adversaries, so she intends to avoid him at all cost. However, her plans go awry when she discovers the remains of a man close to where she is picnicking. The police discover that the dead man is Sam Cassain, the captain of Emile’s ill-fated ship.

Riley hurries back to tell her grandfather, only to find that he has neatly cleaned the house and disappeared. When Straker finds that Cassain's death was not accidental, he joins Riley, ostensibly to find Emile, and to solve the murder.

Riley has an intricately involved family. Her father is running the oceanographic institute; her sister is married to and estranged from the son of Bennett Granger, a victim of the sinking. Her sister's husband is vitriolic in heaping blame on Emile. There is certainly a lot of hatred in this book, but the focus is maintained and unexpected and unresolved questions are finally answered.

As for the romance between Riley and Straker -- it reminds me of the joke about how porcupines mate. The quills in their case are sarcastic taunts; but it does prove the old adage that the greater the hate, the greater the love. All the characters are "on fire" with boundless energy throughout the entire book, but frankly, I would have welcomed an occasional change of pace. Romance lovers should be aware that the mystery drives this book, not the romance.

--Thea Davis

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