Desert Heat
by Janice Sims, contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 1-58314-420-X

I had a great time reading Janice Sims' latest, Desert Heat, mostly for the well-written characters and their relationships with each other. Where this book fumbles though is the introduction of a mystery subplot that sort of fizzles off into an anticlimatic ending.

Katharine Matthews, the daughter of a prominent researcher and a solid physicist in her own right, is having a bad day. She gets harassed by an unpleasant rival to her father's research in at conference and it gets worse when she mistakes an US Marshal for a terrorist at an airport. Actually it's US Marshal Rafael Grant's fault. What kind of silly fool will make a crack about being a "cold-blooded terrorist" in an airport nowadays anyway? Kate tackles him in a funny scene, and the boo-boo results in an apologetic Kate having to nurse poor battered Rafe in her family ranch.

The plot isn't as bad as it sounds, don't worry. There is no contrived "Oops, we're like, accidentally having sex" nonsense here, just a genuine misunderstanding bust-up and two sensible people trying to make the best of their situation. This interlude introduces Rafe to Kate's family. But when someone breaks into the ranch and steals her father's papers, that's when the mystery starts and Rafe ends up helping Kate in trying to get to the bottom of the break-in.

While Kate and Rafe seem to be having a whirlwind courtship as they don't really know each other that long before they get hitched, I really enjoy their story. The author has written two very sensible and level-headed characters with great chemistry, easy banters, and intelligent approaches to solving problems in and out of their relationship. The secondary characters are also nice additions to the story. Ms Sims can write some really playful yet affectionate scenes between family members as well as between friends, and she really shines in Desert Heat.

The mystery subplot, however, is a big disappointment. The villains turn out to be pretty dim and I'm actually taken aback when the whole mystery is solved just in a pretty anticlimatic manner. The author has spent some time in building up the mystery, so to have the whole subplot collapse in such an unexciting manner makes me feel cheated. Why can't be the villains be smarter anyway, given the profession of their mastermind? Since this mystery subplot is set up to be part of this book's raison d'etre, its unsatisfactory resolution causes Desert Heat to come off a little unfocused.

Nonetheless, the enjoyable and well-rounded cast of characters and the well-written romance manage to push this book to the finish line where the disappointing subplot fails to do. As one of Ms Sims' better written offerings, Desert Heat is worth checking out for some fun banters, romantic escapades, and well-written interactions between friends and families that makes me feel as if I'm one of them at the end of the day.

Rating: 86

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