Bad Moon Rising
by Katherine Sutcliffe, contemporary (2003)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-13487-2


Most romantic suspense novels have trouble presenting a credible suspense element in the plot, but Katherine Sutcliffe has no such problems in Bad Moon Rising. This is a solid read that thrills, creeps, and entertains me throughly. A very nice bonus is the tortured hero JD Damascus who can break hearts and makes one sigh from it. Think Nick Fallin from The Guardian only with darker demons in his psyche - that's JD Damascus. I have a soapbox rant about what makes an effective bad boy - JD meets all my requirements and more. I'm in heaven.

JD's life is down the drain since the deaths of his wife and kid by a deranged serial killer that mostly targetted prostitutes. When the man they thought was the modern day Jack the Ripper was executed, a series of murders crop out, prompting JD to wonder whether they have executed the wrong guy or this is a copycat at work. Now a lawyer defending cases no fancy lawyers will touch, he would have gone under if he isn't forced to play father to his nephew and if he isn't always called in to right matters in his brother's dysfunctional marriage. One day, Holly Jones comes to him, needing his help. She found his name on the wall of a cell - JD has a reputation for helping prostitutes and junkies in their legal cases. Her friend Melissa has gone missing, and she fears that Melissa may have become this killer's latest victim. There are also criminal kingpins hot on Holly's tail. If that's not enough, Holly has a past that will complicate matters even more.

Bad Moon Rising is JD's story. Holly is a stereotypical tart with the heart of gold character, and her lines and actions rarely deviate from that of the usual kind-hearted molls that our heroes often fall for in noir movies. It is a good thing therefore that JD is a really amazing hero. He is on the brink of depression and he often does the wrong things at the heat of the moment, but he always means well and once, when he has been unfair to Holly, he realizes it soon and immediately begs for forgiveness. His interactions with his nephew depict him as a man who is essentially good-hearted but has been made hard and cynical by his life experiences. JD is sometimes selfish, sometimes a Prince Charming, but he is a larger than life hero that I find really appealing. His devotion to Holly is more akin to obsessive possessiveness and desperate protectiveness, and it's really attractive, this I find. He's self absorbed yet so noble to help the downtrodden at the same time while insisting that he's a no-good selfish SOB. Just wonderful.

Holly and JD realize their grand love for each other a little too abruptly but JD's growing emotions and how he behaves in the face of his emotional growth make the romance very appealing. Holly is the weakest character here, her personality dominated by JD's, but still, their love story manages to satisfy me because JD is so good at delivering the emotional poignancy the story needs.

Holly is one of the weak links of the story. Her lines often feel as if they come straight out of a greeting card. The other weak link is the over-the-top portrayal of the killer's ramblings and behavior. These parts of the story come off as unintentional humorous rather than creepy. There are also some parts of this book, especially at the start, that feels a little too over-the-top dramatic in the prose. Still, I am willing to forgive anything and prostrate myself at the feet of Katherine Sutcliffe for bringing me JD Damascus... until the identity of the killer is revealed. I won't say anything further, other than the fact that this resolution is too convenient, too easy, and unworthy of all the effort the author has put into her story until then.

Ms Sutcliffe tells a good story with finesse - when a scene is supposed to be suspense-filled, she delivers, and when JD is supposed to bring on a grand declaration of love, he does it with the grand style only really bad boys who adore the women they love could bring. While I'm not pleased with Holly and especially the identity of the killer, I believe this book has plenty to offer readers looking for a good romantic suspense story. Why not give it a try?

Rating: 89


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