With Malice
by Rachel Lee, contemporary (2003)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-658-8


There's something strange about a story that tries to show a finger at Bill Clinton but maintains that the hero Senator Grant Lawrence is the new Kennedy type as if being a Kennedy is better than being a Clinton. I mean, seriously, the elder Kennedy is no better than - probably worse than - Big Daddy Willie here. As for the younger Kennedy, RIP, he looks good in lycra shorts and out of them, but it's quite a stretch to call him a political whiz kid type. I mean, come on, George? Maybe this book is catering to the politically disenfranchised sort of readers. I don't know.

But politics is not the crux of this story. It's how politicians look good when compared to a complete, utter nutcase, the only kind of villains romantic suspense authors are apparently only capable of writing. (Although to be fair, Rachel Lee has written some pretty original romantic suspense books before the bandwagon trend started around early last year. Now she's writing derivative serial killer stories - leading the bandwagon by example and seniority, if you will.) Criminologist Karen Sweeney is trying to piece together the murder of a showgirl, a nanny, and a broody Senator type of guy with a taste for showgirls. As she gets to Grant and his kids (there have to be kids, this is a MIRA book after all), her maternal and womanly instincts come into full bloom, the usual.

While I don't exactly buy the romance - falling in love with a suspect? - I don't buy the premise at all. I don't understand how Grant believes that his having a stripper girlfriend will ruin his career but his aide tampering with a murder case won't. While reiterating that Grant is a moral man, Grant's actions, I don't know, seem shifty to me. Maybe there's a part of me that still wish to believe that politicians are decent, nice people, and I think there are quite a few of those out there, but Grant's actions and the constant reiteration of his "positive" side feels like a media spin in itself.

I probably shouldn't be this nitpicky, but when a story deals with themes like politics and the public trust, I can't help but to scrutinize the hero and judge him maybe a tad more strictly than I would, say, an openly rakish millionaire playboy.

Still, Karen is a pretty able woman who knows what she is doing. It's just that, in the end, I wonder how these two, with their less-than-fond holier-than-thou attitude towards media intrusion and all, will fare living together as a political couple. The book has a well-handled if unoriginal suspense plot, but its daytime-TV-movie-style treatment of politics and the media are strictly out of the Handbook of Derivative Clichés. It could be better, but I've read worse. In the end, I think I like my naughty politicians better if they are upfront about their naughtiness.

Rating: 72


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