Back in Baby's Arms

In a Heartbeat


Until the Day You Die
by Tina Wainscott
(St Martin's, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-312-94163-3
It's been a while since I've read a woman-in-jeopardy story, but I immediately recognized the major movements in Tina Wainscott's Until the Day You Die: watch a sadist torment a woman in every possible way; watch him take away her security and her life; watch him push her to a point of no return. Then, watch her fight back.

Maggie Fletcher has always felt a protective of her depressed younger sister Dana. When she learns a stalker is pursuing her, she insists on reporting it to the police. In the absence of strong evidence, they can't do anything.

Then, Dana is brutally raped and left to die. She lives long enough to identify the criminal. This isn't enough to convict Colin Masters, so Maggie decides to lie under oath. Her testimony obtains a prison sentence, but her troubles have only just begun.

For one, Maggie's boyfriend, Marcus Antonelli, is the prosecuting attorney. He breaks up with Maggie because he can't condone her flagrant violation of justice. For another, the stalking and harassment that began before the trial don't go away. Whoever didn't want Maggie to testify then, now wants to make her life miserable. Everyone and everything around her is a target: her house, her dog, her best friend and her nine-year-old son. After resisting for a while, Maggie decides that the only way out of the nightmare is to change her identity and to go into deep hiding.

The second half of the book opens three years later. Maggie and her son have made a new life for themselves in a sleepy New Hampshire town. She is beginning to date Aidan Trew, another recent arrival in town. When she discovers that Colin has been retried and released, the ordeal begins again. To make matters worse, it quickly becomes clear that someone - maybe even Aidan - is helping Colin terrorize her.

Maggie is the focus of the story;  more than two thirds is told in her voice. To her credit, she does not wait to be rescued by a man but does most of her fighting herself. Still, the novel feeds on tormenting and torturing her. Every time Maggie srikes back, the situation only gets worse. This escalation of violence maintains the suspense and the thrills, but it also undercuts some of the book's dynamic quality. After a while, I began to feel I was caught in a replay loop and that things would never change.

Maggie, of course, develops a bit in the course of the story. She questions her vigilante justice and wonders whether she may be responsible for her problems. Since I cannot buy into all of her arguments, I prefer the person she was at the beginning.

Aside from the ominous tone that pervades throughout, Until the Day You Die is a pretty depressing book. Even before the story begins, Maggie has seen more than her share of personal tragedies: her husband died of cancer, her sister is depressed, her mother is a hell-and-brimstone Christian, her son limps and has problems at school. In response, she has developed a strong backbone and a fighting spirit, which is nice. Still, there is little that is cheerful to break up the overall dismal outlook.

What little romance there is doesn't lighten the read. In fact, I found the hero's profession of instant love a bit creepy: he saw her and immediately decided to change his life because of her. Frankly, it's hard to distinguish his attitude from a deranged stalker's.

I also have issues with the police investigation. Would Marcus really be assigned to a case where he obviously has a personal involvement? Why didn't the police bother to identify the stranger's DNA found in Dana's mouth? Why didn't they request her diary? When the relevance of these items because clear at the end of the story, I felt cheated by an authorial sleight of hand. On the other hand, Wainscott deserves credit for introducing a few interesting twists.

All in all, Until the Day You Die is an acceptable woman-in-jeopardy story for readers who are more into the suspense that the romance part of the romantic suspense equation.  

--Mary Benn

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