Black At Heart
by Leslie Parrish, contemporary (2009)
Signet, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22781-2


The heroine Lily Fletcher's story line started in Fade To Black and it kicked up a notch in Pitch Black. Black At Heart is her story and while this book can stand alone, you may want to read the previous two books to have a greater appreciation of her story here. Here's a word of caution though: while I personally find the previous two books more enjoyable than this one, Lily was very irritating in those books.

In Black At Heart, Lily is revealed to have survived the attack of the pedophile known only by his Internet handle, Lovesprettyboys. In the past few months, she seek refuge in her boss Wyatt Blackstone's Maine beach house, getting martial arts and physical training lessons from a Marine officer while trying to get the scars in her soul to heal. She had been brutally tortured for days before she managed to call Wyatt over the phone for help, but alas, she couldn't get a good look at the bastard's face. In this story, frustrated by the lack of progress made in capturing the villain, she is ready to face her demons and wade back into the fray.

But Wyatt knows that Lily is in more trouble than she realized at first. Someone is killing pedophiles and leaving behind increasingly blatant clues that implicate Lily. While only he and another CAT agent know that Lily is alive, the situation will soon change when the authorities begin to suspect Lily. Also, the man accused of killing Lily's seven-year old nephew all those years ago has been released from prison on a technicality, and he's not going to invite Lily to his happy homecoming party, let's just say.

Oh, and yes, Wyatt and Lily have long been attracted to each other, and perhaps this is finally the right time to take their relationship to the next level.

Black At Heart is easily the most romantic of the three books in this series, as a large chunk of the story is devoted to the romance. Unfortunately,I find that the romance is easily the least interesting aspect of the story.

Lily should have been a heroine after my own heart, as she toughens up considerably here in a realistic manner. Which is to say, she's not exactly Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, having gone from a damsel in distress to a regal Amazonian warrior queen, but given the relatively short time she had to heal, she has undergone a pretty amazing transformation from a sensitive but incompetent and overemotional dingbat to a tougher, harder heroine. Wyatt is a nice guy, and he is a welcome change from the usual in that he is not an angst-ridden hero who has all kinds of issues up the wazoo. Still, he comes off as a little too amazing here. Sure, in real life, I'd marry that guy. He's rich, he fights for truth and justice, and he manages to retain a flat stomach in the process. Also, it's not every woman who is lucky to have a boss that happens to own a perfect beach house to recuperate in, no?

The problem here is that the romance is presented in a pretty bland manner. In the first half of the story, these characters go in circles when it comes to their emotions. They are always thinking of the same things and making the same (erroneous) conclusions about the other person's receptivity to a romantic relationship. I can't wishing for a little less repetitive psychoanalyzing and for the pace of the romance to move faster.

The suspense story line is more interesting, if a little obvious. The identity of the villain is also quite disappointing as I've seen this villain show up many times before in romantic suspense stories. I'm also disappointed by the author turning Wyatt's FBI rival into a cartoon villain. Nonetheless, this suspense subplot provides some pretty good reading. The last few chapters are solid despite my disappointment with a few choices made by the author in her story.

One minor thing: this is present in the previous two books as well, but due to the slower pace of this book, it becomes very noticeable that all the good guys here are depicted as amazingly good looking while anyone remotely antagonistic to the good guys are... well, not ugly, but they no doubt look like trolls compared to the Black CATs. Here we have potbellied guys with drinking problems and such (in other words, they probably look like real-life FBI guys) and then we have the Black CATs that one could easily mistaken for any LA talent agency. I know, the guys on CSI are far more gorgeous than you and me, but that's TV. In fiction, I'm pretty sure we are allowed to have some plain-looking people on the staff roster. I strongly suggest that the Black CATs hire a potbellied balding woman with a mustache to balance the dazzling parade of beauty in the department.

This review is pretty critical, but this is due to the fact that I can't help comparing this book to the previous two books in the series. Black At Heart on its own is actually a pretty noteworthy read - the storyline structure is different from your typical romantic suspense story, the heroine is a survivor worth rooting for, and, once the author kicks up the pacing, the book becomes a solid read in its second half or so. It's just my misfortune to find the pacing in the first half or so of the story very problematic. The pay-off is good and all things considered, this is actually a pretty entertaining read. It's just that pacing issues and some creative decisions made by the author have me thinking that this one seems disappointingly ordinary compared to the previous books in the series.

Rating: 84


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