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In Her Defense
by Margaret Watson
(Harl. Super. #1288, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0373-71288-X
****
In Her Defense is a compelling story with in-depth looks at two people who are trying to overcome things in their past that were beyond their control. Despite issues, they have become well-respected adults. They need each other to heal their hearts and accept a loving relationship. While there is some predictable action, the story is carried by the strength of the characterizations.

Mac McDougal is a detective who is trying to solve a case involving a missing waitress. A.J. Ferguson is a victim's advocate who is trying to protect a mother and son who have been abused. He thinks she is a liberal who really doesn’t understand how much he needs to interrogate these witnesses while the trail is still warm. She thinks he is heartless and can't understand how vulnerable these victims are right now. They are both wrong.

But they both ultimately want the same thing – to catch the bad guy so no one else can get hurt. Doak Talbott is said bad guy. He is rich and is in business with Mac's father, a man who is rich and likes being rich. Mac disappointed his father when he decided to join the police force and they are estranged. Now Mac needs his dad's help to find Doak. Doak is wanted for questioning in the disappearance of a waitress and has also been accused of abuse of his wife and son. Doak has money and the money people have closed ranks.

Meanwhile, Doak's wife Mindy is in a safe house, trying to recuperate from a beating. Her son, Jamie is staying at a hotel with his aunt. Both are scared. Mac is certain they know something and can help him find Doak. The stakes get higher when Doak attacks AJ is the police parking lot. She gets away before he can really hurt her. Now she is under the protection of the police and he seems to be stalking her. Mac finds himself caring more for her than he should. AJ is attracted too, but has some past history that makes her wary and keeps her from entering into any kind of relationship.

The story is centered on the hunt for Doak. But the main action occurs between AJ and Mac. They fight and act like they dislike each other, but underneath they care. Each has a secret and these are not fully revealed until the end of the tale. It is their vulnerability in the face of the danger, the concern about sharing and the overall sense that their love is inevitable that keeps the reader engaged and the story riveting.

Doak is all bad guy. Jamie is the heartrending victim and Mindy is weak and uncertain. Mac's partner is a routine good guy and nice friend to all stereotypical partner. AJ doesn’t really have any friends. Mac is mostly a loner too. This entire routine pattern is overshadowed by what is not routine – that interesting twist keeps the story from being average. When the secrets are revealed they are surprising and add life to the tale. They explain any actions that AJ and Mac may have chosen that seem bland or formula. For once, the secret reason for turning another person away actually lives up to its promise.

In Her Defense is a story that has conventional elements but enough of a difference that sets it apart. It is like drinking a Coke with lime…familiar enough for comfort but just enough of an edge to add some twang.

--Shirley Lyons


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