The Black Knave

Broken Honor

The Diamond King

Home For Christmas

The Perfect Family


Star Keeper

Twisted Shadows by Patricia Potter
(Jove, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-515-13439-2
Itís axiomatic among reviewers that the toughest books to review are the three-heart acceptable ones. The ones that donít lift you up on wings of rapture. The ones that donít find you reading under the bedcovers with a flashlight. Conversely, the ones that donít send you fleeing for relief. The ones that donít require a heroic effort of will to read to the final page. With three-heart books, words fail because there isnít enough to condemn or to praise. Itís not great; itís not bad; you could do worse. Thatís the summation of a three-heart book, and that encapsulates Twisted Shadows.

Samantha Carroll learns that her entire life has been based on a lie. Born Nicole Merritta, she was still an infant when her mother fled her Boston crime boss husband, changed her name, and married another man, the man whom Samantha knew as her father; Nicole and her mother were reportedly killed in an accident. Samantha and her mother own and operate an art gallery in Steamboat Springs, Colorado; the only father she knew has died. Now Samantha learns that her biological father is dying and wants to see her, furthermore, that she has a twin brother Nicholas. Sam is unwilling to follow the plans set out by her father, but she does want to meet her brother. All her life sheís felt incomplete and wonders if the loss of her twin could be the reason.

Nathan McLean is an FBI agent. His mother was killed by the Merritta family, and he has dedicated his life to bringing them to justice. His efforts so far have been mostly unsuccessful; he needs an in to the family. Learning of Samantha, he thinks he may have that in at last.

Nicholas Merritt (heís altered his name) has walked a narrow path. He desperately wants to live an honest life, one divorced from the crime family thatís his heritage, but heís unable to bring himself to sever the connection to his father. Heís initially disbelieving when Samantha contacts him, but after meeting her, he begins to believe that perhaps she really is his sister, that his long-dead mother may still be alive.

Samanthaís existence, however, is jeopardizing someone elseís plans. Her life becomes suddenly very dangerous; even with Nathanís assistance, she several times barely escapes with her life. And then her mother mysteriously goes missing. Does her father have the key to her past and to her future?

One problem with the book is that the heroine is obviously Samantha but the hero is less apparent. Nathan is supposed to be her love interest. In my opinion, Nicholas is a far more interesting and appealing character and would make a much better hero; he even casts Samantha into the shade. Whenever a secondary character steals the book, itís bound to be less than a complete success. The story hints at a future love for him - a schoolteacher friend of Samanthaís - but that seems more expedient than in line with his character.

Samantha is a decent heroine. Well-educated (a Stanford MBA) and independent, she acts intelligently for the most part. She doesnít cast off the father who raised her without a backwards glance; her cool reactions to the truth of her origins are believable and in character. Her motherís repeated disappearing act is less plausible and seems only thrown in to heighten the tension and extend the page count.

In the same way, the supposed love between Samantha and Nate seems more dictated by the requirements of a romantic suspense plot than any real connection between them. During the course of the book, they spend most of their time together dodging bullets. This doesnít necessarily translate into a lifetime love, and I didnít get the impression that their feelings for each other go deeper than a mutual need to survive.

Patricia Potter is an accomplished author whoís best-known for her western romances. Lately she has made the switch to contemporaries and romantic suspense. In many respects, however, Twisted Shadows is just an updated version of a stock western plot. Itís not hard to transport this plot to the Old West with Nathan the town sheriff or U.S. Marshal trying to bring down the wicked crime boss in Boston with the assistance of the long-lost daughter. Twisted Shadows never rises above its formulaic origins.

As I said, itís not great; itís not bad; you could do worse. Three hearts. No less, no more.

--Lesley Dunlap

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