Lost Lost by J.D. Robb, Patricia Gaffney, Mary Blaney & Ruth Ryan Langan
(Jove, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-515-14718-6
***
It is always difficult to rate an anthology.  Rarely are all the novellas included equal in quality.  Lost is no exception.  So I decided to average the ratings of each story.  “Missing in Death” earned a rare 3 hearts from this reviewer, rare because I usually give Robb a higher score.  The best story in the book is Gaffney’s “The Dog Days of Laurie Summer.”  I found it delightfully unusual and give it the highest recommendation.  Mary Blaney’s offering, “Lost in Paradise” is a strange tale which I had trouble with.  It’s not quite a failure (1 heart), but certainly doesn’t achieve an “acceptable” rating.  Ruth Langan’s story is sweet enough, although it doesn’t fit the supposed theme of the anthology, “stories of paranormal desire and suspense.  So 3+5+2+3=13/4=3.25.  This is the best I can do to figure out how to rate this book overall.

Readers of my reviews know that I am an enthusiastic Roberts/Robb fan and, indeed, the presence of another installment of the Eve/Roark saga is why I bought the book.  I was not really disappointed in the story as much as I did not experience my usual “wow” factor when I read “Missing in Death.” The story begins with Dallas and Peabody on their way to the Staten Island ferry (cleverly named the Hillary Rodham Clinton).  They have been called because a woman is missing. Tourist Carolee Grogan has not been seen since she entered a restroom some forty-five minutes earlier.  Homicide has been called in because said restroom is covered in blood.  Something really bad has happened.

The reader knows that Carolee walked in on a brutal murder. When a dazed and confused Carolee turns up shortly thereafter, the mystery deepens.  Who was the victim? Where is the body? And how did the murderer spirit both the witness and the victim out of the restroom through a crowded ferry?  Police work identifies the victim, a woman named Dana Buckley.  Roark is able to fill in the blanks.  He knows from his shady past that this woman is a paid assassin, a sociopath who has worked for the highest bidder, including when the price was right, the shadowy arms of the government where the ends justify the means. 

Dallas and her team uncover a tale of betrayal, murder, and industrial espionage centering on a device that could mean extreme danger if it fell into the wrong hands.  Before the case is over, Eve will have to confront the fact that there are more gray areas in the quest for justice than she is comfortable with.

“Missing in Death” is not without its moments, but perhaps because my expectations of a Robb story are so high, I found it merely acceptable.

“The Dog Days of Laurie Summer” certainly meets the paranormal standard.  Laurie is a hard-driving real estate agent who is the main family breadwinner while her husband Sam stays home with their five-year old son Benny and pursues his avocation as a magician.  An accident leaves Laurie in a deep coma.  Gaffney’s description of Laurie’s gradual emergence from the coma is compelling.  After two months of darkness, her senses slowly return.  First she can hear; then she can feel.  But she cannot communicate and her frustration is painful.  Then, suddenly she is outside of her imprisoning body and in pain.  She looks at her legs and sees fur.  Turns out, on their way back from visiting her in the nursing home, Sam hit a dog.  And Laurie’s spirit has been transferred into the animal.  Benny, who has long wanted a dog, begs to keep the wounded animal and Sam agrees.  They take her home and name her Sonoma.

Gaffney’s portrayal of Laurie’s life as a dog is both funny and touching. As a dog, she discovers the wonders of smell (essence of squirrel is particularly attractive), the joys of digging up a garden (especially when it belongs to the woman who seems to be moving in on Sam), and the ecstatic pleasure of chasing balls.  She wants to communicate with Sam and Benny, but she just can’t figure out how.  But she learns how to be there when her two boys need her and to give comfort.  She also begins to see herself as others see her and she doesn’t always like what she hears and realizes about her pre-coma behavior.

Obviously, Laurie wants to recover herself and her life and since this is a romance anthology, there is no doubt that there will be a happy ending.  Of course, this is a completely improbable tale.  Still, you’d have to be a real dog hater not to find it heartwarming and charming.

Mary Blaney’s “Lost in Paradise”  is, for me, the least successful entry in the anthology.  This is a tale of curses and redemption.  The hero of the story, Sebastian Dushayne, has been cursed with looong life, namely two hundred years, cursed because he is unable to leave the small island and the castle there on and because he must continue to live like a man of the early 19th century.  Sebastian has spent much of this time in dissipation, although he does act responsibly towards the inhabitants of his small domain.  A long, restricted life was the doom pronounced upon him by the local wise woman because of his responsibility for her daughter’s death.

Isabelle Reynaud, a nurse with long experience tending to those in the greatest need all over the world, has been recruited by the mysterious Father Joubay to provide modern medicine to the people of Isla Perdida. Sebastian wanted a nurse and someone who could sing, and Isabelle met his requirements, although she only knows how to sing hymns.  She gets her first inkling of the curse when the small boat bringing her and Father Joubay is swamped by an inexplicable storm.  The priest dies but Isabelle survives.  Thus she comes into Sebastian’s orbit.

It’s really hard to characterize this story.  Obviously, we have the contrast of innocence and dissolution, of good and evil.  Clearly, Isabelle’s love for Sebastian is the key to ending the curse.  The hard part is understanding why Isabelle comes to love Sebastian.  He takes unlovable-ness and unkindness to new heights. Blayney offers a story of redemption, with strong religious overtones.  Possibly the most interesting part of the story dealt with Isabelle’s conflicts with the local medicine woman and her traditional ways.  This does not speak well for the tale’s success as a romance.

I rescanned Ruth Ryan’s Langan’s contribution to the anthology to try to discover any of the paranormal or suspense elements found in the book’s blurb.  Didn’t find a whit of them, which is not to say that “Legacy” isn’t a pleasant enough tale of a young woman who, just when her life seems at its nadir, is invited to Ireland to meet a man who claims he is her real grandfather.  (Actually, “Legacy” makes a strong case for the need for health care reform.  Aidan O’Mara is in such dire straits because the medical expenses of her father and recently deceased mother have eaten up the family’s savings and left her with huge medical bills.  That she had to quit her job to care for her dying mother has left her without an income.  That this is a completely believable scenario is a commentary on something.)

Aidan is sure that Cullen Glin is mistaken; after all, she knew her grandparents and thought she knew her family history.  But the opportunity to travel to Ireland and the promise of a generous stipend are too welcome to turn down.  So Aiden finds herself in the small Irish town of Glinkilly, staying at the luxurious Glin Lodge, her putative grandfather’s home.  She also meets the handsome Ross Delaney, Glin’s solicitor and adopted son.  I’m sure that anyone who has read even one-tenth of the romances I have has no difficulty predicting the outcome of Aiden’a trip.

So there you have it: four stories of differing quality, each with the loose connection of describing someone who is lost in some way or another.  Rabid Robb fans will probably not want to miss even an average installment of the Eve/Roark saga.  Gaffney fans and dog lovers will undoubtedly enjoy her contribution.  But perhaps the best course is to look for Lost in the library.   

--Jean Mason


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