has also reviewed:

As Sharon Sala:

Chance McCall
Deep in the Heart
Finders Keepers
Roman's Heart
Ryder's Wife
Second Chances

As Dinah McCall:

Chase the Moon
Dreamcatcher
Jackson Rule
Legend
Tallchief

 
Reunion by Sharon Sala
(Mira, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-487-9
**
Even the most accomplished author can occasionally turn out a clunker. In Reunion, Sharon Sala (who also writes as Dinah McCall) shows she's not immune. Even though many of the ingredients of Ms. Sala's signature style (such as supernatural elements and a tortured hero) are present, the plot is overly contrived and the characters' anguish overly melodramatic.

Gabriel Donner has been seriously injured in the accident that took his parents' lives. As he is emerging from a coma, he begins hearing a voice asking for help. He is deeply affected by his parents' death and agonizes over his survival. His first act upon release from the hospital is to spread dozens of roses on his parents' graves. (His mother had a beautiful rose garden, and roses are a recurring theme in the book.)

After he returns to his home in Oklahoma City, Gabriel's psychic episodes increase. (He seems to have had no lingering physical injuries from the accident.) He begins sleepwalking and having vivid nightmares of murders being committed. The murderer, dubbed Prince Charming because of his practice of leaving a rose with each victim, is killing unrelated persons, and Gabriel is witnessing these crimes in his dreams as they are happening.

Gabriel begins to doubt his sanity. He confides that he is experiencing hallucinations to an old family friend who in turn contacts Laura Dane, a psychic. When she first meets Gabriel, Laura has a graphic vision of the two of them in bed together and knows that they will become lovers. She moves into Gabriel's house (how convenient!) and discovers that she is remarkably attuned to his thoughts and emotions. She observes Gabriel's torment and strange behavior and becomes convinced that there is more happening in this case than merely unexplained psychic episodes.

Even though Gabriel's experiences continue and Laura begins to envision murders that are yet to occur, they are not too preoccupied to find themselves increasingly attracted to one another. As Laura's vision had foretold, the resolution of this attraction is inevitable.

The origin of Gabriel's psychic link is a long-buried family secret. Together Gabriel and Laura will have to uncover a tragic past.

As I read Reunion, I had the sensation that I had read it before in bits and pieces. The plot is quite reminiscent of Kathleen Eagle's The Night Remembers and Linda Howard's Dream Man. Those books, however, are powerful stories that immediately draw the reader into the action and the characters' emotions. Reunion left me mostly unmoved. There's a lot of oh-my-god-what-have-I-done going on, but that doesn't compensate for the lack of sufficient character development.

In previous novels, Ms. Sala has demonstrated that she is capable of creating multi-dimensional characters that readers can care about. In Gabriel, the reader knows that he's a tall, gorgeous hunk, that he's deeply grieved by his parents' death and feels inadequate to be running his father's business (even though later in the book it's stated that he's virtually run the business for the previous four years), but that's about it. The depth of motivation that made Jackson Rule such a sympathetic character is mostly absent in Reunion.

Because Gabriel is the most important character by far, whether the book succeeds or fails depends primarily on his portrayal. For a variety of reasons, I felt a certain detachment from Gabriel and his agonies. I felt sorry for him, but I also felt exasperation. For too much of the book, he's anguished (boy, is he anguished!) but he's also far too passive. I wanted him do something, anything ... even if it was only to get out of town.

He's also strangely friendless except for the family friend and the housekeeper even though he's lived in the same city his entire life. Where are the recollections of school pals and old girlfriends? Of youthful indiscretions and growing maturity? Those seemingly minor details that add up to believable character development are mostly absent, and my connection with Gabriel suffered as a result.

All the other characters are of less importance than Gabriel.

Laura is a recognized psychic who has been instrumental in many police investigations, but she exhibits classic symptoms of the gothic-heroine-syndrome. There's a murderer on the loose, Gabriel's coming home with blood on his clothes, she's having visions that he's going to kill her, and she stays put. I prefer my heroines to display some basic common sense. Sure, Gabriel's a hunk, but Ted Bundy was pretty good looking. If a psychic can't trust her instincts, who can?

While Reunion is primarily a mystery, it is also a story of loneliness and isolation. All three of the main characters have experienced a sense of disconnectedness. This is a dark book with anguished characters and a strong sense of impending doom. In the hands of an accomplished author like Ms. Sala, it should have been a moving story, but regrettably there are only occasional glimpses of her talent. Readers who have heard good things about Ms. Sala's books would be advised to search out her older ones and pass on Reunion.

--Lesley Dunlap


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