Avenging Angel
by Justine Dare, contemporary (2002)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41062-9


Avenging Angel is a typically formulaic "Serial killer, hassssshhhh I killllll killkillkillkill!" romantic suspense despite addressing some heavy issues. This book, despite its formulaic nature, is a very entertaining story, with an emphasis on the suspense part as opposed to the romance.

Regan Keller is the director of Rachel's House, a shelter for battered women. She comes under the scrutiny of the law when a serial killer begins cutting down the men that have abused the women in her shelter. Her patroness sends her son Alexander Court, to watch over Regan and her women while posing as a handyman. In the meantime, Detective Lynne Garrison finds that this case is probably out of her depths, but she'll work on it the best she could, thank you very much, even if it brings her in close contact with her ex-husband Drew once more (Drew's the profiler).

The main reason why this book works in reeling me in is that it brings up a very interesting issue: how do you paint someone who takes down those very abusive men who almost killed the women in Regan's shelter when the law won't protect these women? Totally evil? Unforgivably misguided? Hooray for vigilantes? Of course, the story takes a very easy way out in dealing with these issues by turning the killer into a full-blown psycho, but it's pretty hard-hitting and interesting while it lasted.

The author also knows what she is writing about. There is no feeling that she's out of her league when it comes to describing police procedures or forensics analysis. Actually, if I don't feel the niggling doubt about something I read that I have the urge to go look up the forensics textbook to double check if the author is making things up as she goes along (Sharon Sala, this is your life), that's good enough for me.

But thing is, the red herring is so obviously a red herring that I easily overlook it to peg my (correct) guess on the villain from the get go. Then there's always the annoying finale where the good guys correctly deduce the identity of the villain just as the villain goes to cut down our heroine. (How these villains know when to deliver a grand climax, I will never know.) The psycho has mother issues. In real life, profilers use stereotypes to base their work on and catch their people, true, but can I have some variety when it comes to serial killers in fiction? I'm bored with the Norman Bates types already.

As for the romance part, Regan is a capable heroine and so is Lynne. Drew is barely fleshed out, but he's good enough as a foil for Lynne, but Alex is the weakest drawn of them all - he's on the dull side. Their relationships take a backseat to the suspense, but I find Lynne and Drew's story compelling enough to wish that it is developed further.

Am I the only one who find some perverse amusement in the fact that in a story about abusive men, the heroes also do or has done in the past their share of deception and other not-so-nice things like, in the case of Drew, "emotional" (since Drew said "technically" he didn't sleep with the woman) adultery with one of his cases? In the end, the only avenging angel in this story is a crackpot. Where does that leave humanity? Oh, the pessimism!

Still, Avenging Angel, despite being a formulaic serial killer story, is still one of the better romantic suspense novels I've read these recent months. It has some hard-hitting issues to elevate it above the rest of the pack, and at the end of the day, whatever the fault of her stories, Justine Dare can still tell one heck of a good story if she puts her mind to it.

Rating: 83


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