Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Coulter's 'Blindside' blends love, intrigue

Kidnapping whodunit by mystery master will make those beach hours fly

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

You can always tell when it's a Catherine Coulter book signing: There's an army of people, many of them loaded with 10 or 20 of her previous books - 54 romances, historical novels and thrillers - that have been read and reread until they're dog-eared and yellowed.

That was the case last week at Joseph-Beth Booksellers when Coulter made a rare Cincinnati appearance (most years she does Kettering's Books & Co.) where she answered questions ("Yes, I really do wear Harry Potter socks") and signed books well past the scheduled cutoff time.

And what the heck is this? Here she is in a subdued gray suit instead of her usual leather jacket, tight jeans and boots.

"Yeah, but I'm still wearing my 31/2-inch stilettos. The leather was my wicked-lady-from-out-of-town look. I'm off that for a while," she said.

But not off writing. Occasion for the visit was the release of her 55th book, Blindside, the eighth in her FBI suspense thriller series starring Dillon Savich, head of the FBI's Criminal Apprehension Unit, wife and fellow agent Lacy Sherlock, and a whole cast of assorted law enforcement types.

Like all Coulter novels, Blindside is a blend of many things.

It's a bit of a romance because, well, a little bodice ripping is always good for a story. Miles Kettering, hunky ex-agent, single parent and Dillon's good friend, is shattered when son Sam is kidnapped and spirited off to the wilds of the eastern Tennessee mountains. Sheriff Katie Benedict, cute, tough and also a single parent, rescues Sam, meets Miles and it's lust at first sight, love at second.

It's also a bit of a police procedural, with Savich and fellow officers, all of them baffled for most of the novel, following every possible clue, bogus and otherwise, pretty much the way any well-run department would.

Likewise, it's also a bit of an education, this time into the alleluia-drenched world of backwoods preachers like the Rev. Sooner McCamy, leader of the Sinful Children of God, and a bit of a pervert with a taste for fur-lined handcuffs and spankings, among other delights, in a cute little dungeon hidden off the master suite.

But mostly, it's a whole lot of thriller with close calls, brushes with death and red herrings all over the place.

Once Sam is rescued, the kidnappers try again.

And fail, but they try again, leaving a constant cloud of worry hanging over the entire book.

Why do they keep trying when ransom has never been an issue?

And just how are they connected to the ungodly Rev. McCamy?

And who's next into that dungeon with its green marble table?

Coulter is pretty merciless when it comes to a body count - dead bodies, injured agents, battered bad guys and innocent bystanders keep piling up right through the last chapter.

This is one blood-stained woman here.

But she's also a skillful storyteller, able to balance two plots - the less detailed one here is about a Washington, D.C., serial killer who kills math teachers - with ease.

All of which makes Blindside some fine light reading. Something for the beach.

Or sitting on the deck after work with a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and 10 or 12 dead people.


E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com

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