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The Best of Enemies

Randon Acts by Taylor Smith
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-431-3
Random Acts is a fast-paced novel of suspense with good characterizations and even a slight romantic thread. The extraordinary number of coincidences in the story line, however, are a bit hard to swallow and weaken what is otherwise a solid, well-crafted tale.

Laurel Madden's profession requires her to delve into the minds of serial killers. As a criminal profiler, she has been very successful; her brilliance and her beauty are undeniable. However, because of the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of her newborn son and the subsequent murder of her husband, Michael Kazarian, she is referred to as the "Black Widow."

There are a number of people who think Laurel knows more about the death of her husband than she's willing to admit. Dan Sprague, Laurel's boss, is determined to give Laurel a fair shake but he's not sure if Agent Madden is up for catching this latest serial killer, the Southland Snatcher. The most heinous of killers, the Snatcher randomly takes babies from their parents and suffocates them.

Reporter Claire Gillespie can't put the murder of her lover, Michael Kazarian, behind her. Not when she feels guilty about his death about the possibility that she might have inadvertently played a part in getting him killed. Her investigation into Michael's death takes her in a direction she never suspected, when Michael's FBI partner, Gar Doucet, warns Claire to stop snooping and to stay away from Michael's wife, Laurel Madden.

Okay, how's this for coincidence? Claire had an affair with Michael who was (unbeknownst to Claire) married to Laurel. Laurel works for Dan Sprague who used to be Claire's father's partner in the Kansas City police force. Dan is currently renting space in his home outside Los Angeles to Claire's sister's family.

Maybe all roads do lead back to Rome, but I thought this was all a bit too much. More than once, I found myself humming the Disney song "It's a Small World." Also, although the book explained why Dan moved to LA, it didn't explain how he made the rather large leap from Kansas City cop to FBI management.

On the other hand, I must say that for a tale of suspense the depth of the characterizations in Random Acts impresses me. Claire, Laurel and Dan are very "real" characters, full of humor and pathos. What I especially like about this story is how Ms. Smith gives insights into her characters but also retains elements of uncertainty.

In other words, I was never quite sure if a seemingly "good" character was good or if a seemingly "bad" character was truly bad. The uncertainty adds to the suspense and it's what kept me turning the pages.

--Judith Flavell

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