Moving Target
by Elizabeth Lowell, contemporary (2002)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-103107-0

A mysterious antique book with possible magical properties, a strong-willed scholar hero working for what seems like a supersecret sophisticated Alias-meets-24 antique appraisal and security agency (and you think FBI is cool, wait until you see Rarities Unlimited), a heroine who is plunged into a global intrigue scenario - oh, Moving Target could have flown high across the sky. But it remains firmly grounded on earth, unable to fly, because the author spreads herself too wide and ends up shortchanging herself and her readers.

Make no mistake: if you ask me, Elizabeth Lowell still blows all those wannabe bandwagon romantic suspense authors out of the water. Even if she pushes the romance to the background, the romance is still compelling enough to keep me reading. Here is where Ms Lowell keeps me buying her books while the Tami Haogs, Iris Johansens, and Sandra Browns out there can go kiss my bum.

And if you're one of those wondering what happened to the fourth mule in Elizabeth Lowell's medieval trilogy - you know, the ones with the naked guys in the stepback arts? - Erik, well, his story shows up here, along with that of his namesake, the modern-day descendant also named Erik. Oh well, guess now I'll never know if Erik's butt cheeks look as fine as those of the other three male medieval mules.

(And for your info, I love those Naked Medieval Guys books to bits, especially Enchanted. I was bummed when Erik's story wasn't forthcoming then. Now I'm kinda more bummed because Erik's - the medieval Erik's, that is - story here sounds like the sexy magical medievals I love to read.)

Oh well, enough about naked male butt cheeks. Let's move on, shall we?

Erik North - the modern Erik - has in his possession the Book of the Learned, which is actually Dead Erik's purple love story masquerading as a "classic antique book". Dead Erik is enthralled, besotted, obssessed, and all screwed up over the sorceress named Serena of the Silverfells Clan. Ah, really, I want to read that Book of the Learned. I don't like the Avon folks. First they drum Taylor Chase into changing genres, and now they deny me another potentially good medieval romance. I don't like them at all.

The modern day Serena is in danger. Her grandmother was barbecued by arsonist(s) - who would do such a thing to G'mom? Incidentally, how do you pronounce G'mom? Gee-mom? Guh-mom? Jee-mom? Someone's been trying too hard to be the new J Lo, I see. G'mom, before she dies, sends a few pages from the Book of the Learned to her G'daughter, Serena along with a (magical?) shawl that gives Serena vision thingies. Serena is the latest in a long line of women protecting the secrets of the Book, and now she has to find the rest of the book.

Get it? He wants the missing pages, she wants the missing book, and some bad guys want everything. Fun! Espionage! Intrigue! Sexual tension! Hold on on that last one. The sexual tension is there, yes, but it's subdued and rather perfunctory, but still, it's enough to raise the heat. Erik is a sexy, predatory guy with the soul of a historian. He just happens to be very good at beating up bad guys - the perfect dude for armchair aspiring Sydney the Relic Hunters like me. Serena is a fine heroine too, strong-willed although a bit too teary for my liking. Any woman who can keep saying "G'mom" without wanting to bite someone's head off must be an amazing lady. Say "G'mom" to me one more time and I will definitely be not responsible for your head being stuck in my kettle.

The language can be on the clumsy side. If you're read Jade Island, you'll know what I'm talking about - the first half of this book can be very heavy in awkward imageries and similies. Heck, the opening sentence alone, "The sky was a seamless blue, empty as a murderer's heart", makes me go, "Oh spare me!"

The story stretches across the world map when it comes to the list of murders, intrigues, assignations, outrageous conspiracies, and everything else but the kitchen sink. Wait, is that... never mind. It is however very easy to lose myself in this book. Rarities Unlimited boast an assortment of nerds, misfits, and superheroes working side by side, all no doubt wearing cool shades and black threads that will put the cast of Dark Angel to shame, and the exotic underworld of antique hunting makes a vicarious adventure to savor.

It is only when the last page has ended do I feel as if something is lacking. This book isn't as tightly plotted or well fleshed out as this author's previous books. It is hard to put a finger on the exact cause, but I guess it is the author's ambitious attempts to weave so many different elements in her story that she can't find to give every element the attention it deserves. Moving Target thrills me, oh yes, but somehow, the ultimate resonance remains elusive.

Rating: 82

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