Brown-Eyed Girl
by Mariah Stewart, contemporary (2000)
Pocket, $6.50, ISBN 0-671-78588-5


This is my first Mariah Stewart full-length novel. I understand that she writes emotional romances in the vein of Barbara Freethy and Kathleen Eagle, and Brown-Eyed Girl is a bit of a departure. In fact, I bought this book because I'm struck by the poetic title (brings to mind the notion of nostalgia of childhood crushes) juxtaposed with the bleak landscape of death and desolation. Hey, I was having a deep-thought moment.

And BEG is an emotionally-charged serial-killer story with a great romance thrown in. It's not dark, it's not too depressing, and it is also a very good read.

It's just the technique of writing that drives me nuts.

Leah Devitt is still traumatized by her sister Melissa going missing seven years ago. When she appears on a TV show reiterating that she is still offering a substantial reward for any information on her sister, she gets a reply. From a death row convict. Oh boy. Raymond Lambert offers to tell Leah about her sister, but the man is killed in a fight before he could do so.

Leah then seeks out the author of Raymond's twisted autobiography, Ethan Sanger, to access Ethan's notes for any clues - any clues whatsoever - about Melissa's fate or whereabouts. Ethan too suffers from Raymond's evil, and Leah's presence reopens a lot of old demons. But do not fear, love will save the day!

Leah and Ethan make a really wonderful couple, becoming each other's strength in face of madness and grief of losing a loved one to Raymond. And me, I regret not strangling the serial killer to death myself, that scurvy *beep* *beep* *censored* *censored* *bleep*. Ethan's daughter makes a poignant character, as does Ethan's father Tom, and I find myself rooting and going teary-eyed at times at their raw anguish. If there are people deserving of love, it's these people.

However, there are some flaws in the execution that jolt me right out of the story. The author is fond of switching point of views between her characters abruptly and often. For instance, when Leah visits Raymond, it takes me awhile to realize that I am no longer reading about Leah's thoughts but the prison guard's. And then, eh, I'm reading about Leah's POV back again.

Likewise, when Ethan confronts Leah face-to-face for the first time, it is disconcerting to read paragraphs of head-hopping from Ethan to his daughter to Leah to his father - blink and I'll get confused. What is this?

And after a while, I can't help but to realize that every character in this story shares the same thought bubble. Every FBI is friendly and willing and helpful and even offer unsolicited goodwill advice to Leah. Likewise, everyone offers the same opinion and ideas. It's nice to see people co-existing in unity and harmony, but it doesn't make much interesting reading.

BEG is a truly great book, bogged somewhat by the execution. But hey, that's okay. I like it, and for me, it's all that matters sometimes.

Rating: 84


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