Child's Play, by Bethany Campbell

>> Friday, September 16, 2005

Child's Play, is an old Harlequin Intrigue by Bethany Campbell, an author I've been hearing a lot about.

The residents of Black Bear Lake thought that evil could never touch such an idyllic spot. But they were wrong.

Thornton Fuller, a young man with the mind of a child, was paralyzed with fear when he told the secret of Black Bear Lake to the children of Rachel Dale and Jay Malone.

Caught in the throes of summer passion, Rachel and Jay savored the serenity of the lake. But soon, Black Bear Lake was antyhing but tranquil. Suddenly good was battling evil...and the children's lives were at stake
This is a book with a suspense subplot that is much, much stronger than the romance. Definitely not what I usually go for, but I enjoyed Child's Play. A B-.

The mystery presented here is truly intriguing, and terribly chilling, too. From the beginning, we more or less know what happened, thanks both to a prologue that says just enough and to certain cryptic passages by the murderer, passages from his or her confession. This makes seeing Rachel and Jay floundering and often doing exactly the wrong thing (always with the best of intention), suspenseful and scary.

And the way they become convinced, little by little, as clues start emerging, that maybe Thornton was telling the truth when he said he'd seen a dead body, was pretty well done. Maybe Rachel clung to the idea that it was all false for a little too long, but this basically made sense with the type of extremely rational woman she was.

I think what made the suspense even scarier was the way Campbell creates an almost gothicky, sombre atmosphere, from the actual setting, to the cast of secondary characters, even down to the songs Rachel's daughter Mercer sings. Children's songs are often very macabre, but Mercer is fond of the most macabre of them all! I loved this!

The mystery aspect wasn't perfect, though. For starters, I didn't really get why they didn't get the hell out of this horrible little town long before things came to a head. And also, while the villain's motivations were very well developed, I wasn't convinced of the reasons why certain people felt they were obliged to cover for this person. Still, the plot of the book was pretty good.

What didn't work very well for me was the actual romance. The protagonists themselves were well-drawn: brainy, rational psychologist Rachel, with her doubts about whether what she plans to do both with her personal and her professional life is really what she wants, and hot-headed, grief-stricken Jay, still mourning his late wife and worrying about the fact that he can't seem to connect with his son.

I enjoyed both, but when they came together, the whole irresistible passion thing Campbell tries to do between them... well, it just didn't ring true. Especially on Jay's part. The transition from a guy still in love with his dead wife and almost clinically depressed about it, to passionate new lover of another woman, to me, wasn't smoothly done. It was much too abrupt, and I never did believe in it.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is one book that would have been stronger without a romance!


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