The Man Behind the Badge
by Dawn Stewardson
Harl. Super #947, $4.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-70947-1
**
Detective Travis Quinn and his partner, Hank, are investigating the homicide of a psychiatrist. The detectives have few clues to lead them to Steve Parker's murderer; however, Steve's sister, Celeste Langley, soon finds herself in Detective Quinn's sights...both as a suspect and as an attractive woman. Although Celeste is the prime murder suspect, Travis can't help but be drawn to her. Travis' objectivity is soon compromised when his feelings become apparent to Hank, and their commanding officer pulls Travis off the case.

Celeste is aware of her attraction to Travis, but knows that now is not the time for their relationship to become more familiar than it already is. Regardless of this, she gratefully accepts his assistance when it seems that no one else believes in her innocence. Together they run through suspects and scenarios that explain Steve's murder, but nothing seems to completely exonerate Celeste. That is not until Hank discovers there's a contract for Celeste's murder. Now Travis must discover the murderer's identity before the hitman finds Celeste.

The Man Behind the Badge suffers from a weak plot, among other problems. Specifically, the investigation never seemed to turn up any viable suspects, thus stalling the investigation's movement. The coincidental resolution came out of the blue, and is never completely resolved for the reader.

In fact, Travis and Celeste's romance progresses faster than does the murder investigation. However, I got the feeling that these two characters weren't completely compatible. Celeste seemed desperate for a knight-in-shining-armor to rescue her from an otherwise intolerable situation. Travis is a detective who readily admits that cops work unusual hours, which contributes to the downfall of most officers’ marriages and is the reason Travis has avoided long-term relationships in the past. Perhaps this is an "opposites attract" relationship, but I didn't find it completely believable.

The one redeeming quality of the story is Dawn Stewardson's creative character development. Most of the characters are very interesting individuals with unusual personalities. One of these characters is Evan Reese, one of Steve Parker's psychiatric patients who develops an obsession with Celeste. The twist in his character is that his uncle is the first deputy police commissioner, which allows Reese to get Travis thrown off the case and hopefully off his back as a murder suspect. These characters would have made for a great whodunnit, had the author not dropped the ball in the end.

Overall I found that the romance aspect lacks punch, and the suspense fizzles in the end. Hank will be getting his own Superromance in 2001, but I may think twice before picking it up.

--Kristy Hales


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