The Secret Hour
by Luanne Rice, contemporary (2004)
Bantam, $7.50, ISBN 0-553-58401-4

Luanne Rice's continues her distancing herself from the Hallmark/Lifetime TV movie scripts that she regularly churns out for the bestseller lists by releasing The Secret Hour, which is only slightly more successful than her last attempt, The Perfect Summer, when it comes to delivering the thrills. The author still hasn't mastered the art of writing conversations that feel like those of normal people and this book's clumsy serial killer suspense story is ruined by the presence of two children that speak like ghastly monsters from the cute pit.

John O'Rourke is an attorney that fancies himself the new Atticus Finch. He is defending the incarcerated serial killer Greg Merill and trying to get the courts to overturn Greg's death sentence in favor for multiple lifetime sentences instead. His children, two annoying monsters that speak in manipulative eeksy-pooey cutesy manner the way bad authors imagine children would speak and readers would go "Aaaw, how precious!" to, are nobly suffering from the backlash from the townspeople. Then comes Kate Harris, who allows John to believe that she is the new hired nanny, and she takes care of the kids, is oh-so-understanding, so the hills are allliiive!, and so bloody understanding that she is more than happy to take care of the kids of the man who is defending the person she believes may have murdered her missing sister.

One of the problems of this story is that John's reasons for defending Greg aren't fully realized as much as his defending Greg is just another excuse by the author to portray him as Nobly Conflicted, Awww. Ms Rice must be losing her touch at manipulating her reader's hands in the Kleenex box. Likewise, Kate is another standard "good" heroine: ready to whisper her distress as she looks artfully hurt while always just as ready to take care of the kids and provide some TLC, because that's how all women are in Hallmark and Lifetime TV movies. As for the two children, ugh. They aren't characters as much as two more sack of manipulative sentiments on the train wreck to sobsville.

What I do like about The Secret Hour is that the author has a deft way of pacing when it comes to hurtling the story towards a rollercoaster suspense denouement. The entire suspense plot is substandard and the answers to the mystery have me rolling up my eyes at the extent of coincidences the author wants me to accept, but the pacing is good. I actually am at the edge of my seat during the last few chapters, although "Kill all of those disgusting, manipulatively cute bag of mawkishness!" may slip through my lips once or twice.

Maybe it's because I'm a cynical reader, but the author's very transparent and overly-sentimental attempts to manipulate me into crying leave me cold, so I don't enjoy The Secret Hour as much as I would if the author approaches her story in a less heavy-handed manner. On the other hand, the author's writing style doesn't gel well with the suspense genre. The Secret Hour ends up a bizarre hybrid of the genre the author wants to leave and the genre she wants to make more money from.

Rating: 63

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