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Saturday, August 12, 2006

**** Home Before Midnight by Virginia Kantra. Romantic suspense.

This is another returning-home story. Interesting how these things sometimes run in streaks.

Bailey Wells hasn't really chosen to return to her hometown, however--she's returned in the company of her employer, Paul Ellis, a true-crime writer who's working on a book about a teenager who killed his family 20 years ago.

When Bailey discovers Paul's wife Helen's body floating in the pool, she becomes the number one suspect: she has a crush on Paul, didn't get along well with Helen, and was living in the house with them.

Police detective Steve Burke initially suspects Bailey, but finds himself drawn to her anyway. The more he gets to know her, the more he believes in her innocence, but it looks increasingly as if she's guilty, or as if she's being set up--by the employer she's in love with.

The stars in this story are really the characters. Bailey is utterly convincing as a frustrated would-be writer who's more or less exchanged her dream for helping Paul achieve his. In the hands of a less gifted author, she might have come off as weak or grasping, but instead, she's understandable and sympathetic, and a character I could root for.

Steve is also very real. A widower with a young daughter, struggling to find that parental balance on his own, and then he meets Bailey, and he's in the position of falling in love with someone who may be a murderer or an accomplice, and at the very least is in love with someone else, and a married man at that. His conflicting emotions are evident, realistic, and understandable.

Normally, I subscribe to the No Kids In Romance Novels camp, but Steve's daughter didn't push my buttons. Gabrielle acts age-appropriately, and doesn't conveniently disappear.

The 4 stars for this book is part of my attempt to fix my ratings system and shouldn't be construed as meaning I didn't like the book. Four stars--now--means I liked it very much. It just didn't make me scream "oh, my god, this is such a great book." Honest, wouldn't you worry about me if every book did that?


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