Dear Maggie by Brenda Novak
(Harl. Super. #987, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-70987-0
****
A serial killer, an online romance, a single mom, a cute toddler, a sexy undercover FBI agent - certainly Dear Maggie seems to be full of the plot devices that are so common in category romance. Fortunately, it also has a tautly written suspense plot, an interesting setting, well drawn characters, and an enjoyable romance.

Maggie Russell is a police reporter for a Sacramento newspaper. She divorced her selfish, workaholic husband when he rejected their son and is struggling to establish herself in the career she always wanted. She doesn’t have much time for romance and isn’t interested in a temporary fling. So when the sexy new photographer, Nick Sorenson, asks her out, she says no. She doesn’t do sexy!

Nick is attracted to the lovely redhead, but he has other motives for trying to get close to Maggie. Nick is an FBI agent, heading the effort to catch a serial killer who has already murdered six women. “Dr. Dan” has announced to the police that he is heading for Sacramento. Since his last murder victim was a police reporter on a Seattle paper, Nick is pretending to be a photographer in case the murderer repeats his pattern and begins to contact the only female reporter on the staff.

Maggie’s rebuff of his advances makes his job more difficult, so when he hears her friend Darla suggest that the two visit an online singles chat room, he decided that this might be a way to gain her confidence. Before long, Maggie and “John” have become cyberfriends.

“Dr. Dan” does strike again and Maggie and Sam cover the brutal murder. It’s Maggie’s story and she begins to dig deeper into the case. She discovers that the police suspect that a serial killer is at work and, as he had before, the murderer contacts Maggie. Nick manages to become friends with Maggie and even concocts a tale that allows him to move in with her. The attraction is there, but Nick finds that he has a rival - his online alter ego!

I have to admit that this one kept me turning the pages. Novak creates an atmosphere of pervasive menace and suspense as the villain kills again and then makes Maggie his target. She also paints both the official investigation and Maggie’s own pursuit of the story with a sure hand. If the ending is a bit over the top, the suspense element in Dear Maggie is quite well done.

So is the romance. Maggie has never quite gotten over her teenage insecurities; she doesn’t realize what a lovely woman she has become. Her experiences in her marriage have further eroded her self-confidence. She doesn’t quite know how to handle someone like Nick. “John” seems somehow safer, but Nick is there in the flesh. He’s pretty darn hard to resist, even though Maggie is convinced he’s not a commitment kind of guy. In fact, she is right. But Nick has never met anyone quite like Maggie and before long, he’s hooked. The only problem is that he hasn’t been able to level with her.

Novak has managed find just the right combination of romance and suspense. Dear Maggie is a fast-paced, gripping romantic suspense story. Perhaps Novak has found her niche.

--Jean Mason


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