Count to Ten by Karen Rose
(Warner, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-64690-7
****
Karen Roseís latest romantic suspense fires on all cylinders and is proof of how right the sub genre can be when itís in the hands of a skilled writer. Clocking in at 550 pages, Count to Ten is an unstoppable read, with an explosive suspense thread and an equally tension-filled romantic storyline.

Homicide detective Mia Mitchell has made appearances in several of Roseís other novels, but the beauty here is that the series is very loosely connected. Characters make repeat appearances, but they work within the context of this story. Fans wonít be bored with rehashed details and newcomers wonít be confused by complicated character relationships.

Fire marshal Reed Solliday is called to the site of a grisly house fire. While the owners were away on vacation, their cat sitter, a young college girl, wasnít so lucky. They find her in the house burnt to a crisp and the evidence screams arson. However, autopsy on the girl shows she died from a gunshot wound, so that means the case gets kicked to homicide and Reed will have to work with a new partner.

His new partner is Detective Mia Mitchell, and Reed isnít terribly impressed thanks to a bad first impression. Mia and her partner were shot, and she blames herself. Determined to get back to work, she comes back from disability early, but sheís still a little shell-shocked. Reed actually mistakes her for a crazy homeless person.

Bad first impressions aside, the chief wants them working together on this case, which soon takes on epic proportions. The arsonist isnít satisfied with one exploding house, and the resulting fires prove to be deadly. Can Mia and Reed fight their growing attraction and catch the monster before he kills more innocent people?

Rose belongs to what this reviewer likes to call the Mary Higgins Clark school of writing. She believes in alternating points of view, chapter breaks, lots of action, and plenty of glimpses inside the mind of the killer. Itís a readable, exciting, and addicting style when done right, and the author hits all the right notes here.

Mia starts out on shaky footing. The reader essentially meets her during one long pity party, which does not bode well. Sheís been sulking and licking her wounds. However, she soon realizes that she has a job to do, and canít afford to wallow. The author also tosses in several secondary storylines involving her past that provide insight, depth and some tender moments.

Reed is charming, handsome, a doting father to an increasingly difficult 14-year-old daughter. He lost his wife in a car accident several years ago, but heís been unable to move on. He has settled for no-strings-attached affairs, but cut himself off when he found himself breaking too many hearts, and heís not the type to go for one-night stands. Essentially he wants a relationship but is unwilling to invest himself emotionally. He loved his wife and seems frozen in time, hurting himself and his daughter more than he knows.

The suspense thread is very good, but grisly. There is a very high body count, which makes for exciting reading, but might bother readers with delicate sensibilities. While quite a bit of the violence takes place off stage, there is enough talk to make it suitably blood curdling. The villain has a plan, which is carried out with bloodthirsty efficiency. The romance also works well, as both Mia and Reed think they want ďno stringsĒ but are really screaming for something more. When these two finally get together it makes for explosive, tension filled scenes.

Count To Ten is truly a page-turning read. Rose manages to write stories that can appeal to mystery and romance readers alike. A creepy villain, an explosive suspense thread and two characters destined to collide and fall in love make this a great read. Rose is a very good storyteller and her plots are unstoppable. She hasnít made the leap to hard cover yet, but itís only a matter of time.

--Wendy Crutcher


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