Buried Secrets
Grade : A

I hadn't planned on reading this book. I really wasn't interested in paranormal romances and had never read one before. While I'm a big fan of TV shows like the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I figured a paranormal romance could never be that scary or creepy or even the littlest bit chilling, so I had planned to stop by the bookstore and return this one on my way to work one day. But, as I took the subway there, my curiosity got the better of me and I started reading the book. And reading. And reading. Before I knew it, I had missed two subway stops and was late for work that day. The upshot? I read more of this incredibly fascinating book and rid myself of all the ill-conceived notions I had about paranormal romance novels. They can be spooky and creepy and chilling. And provide a wonderfully romantic, passionate and great love story to boot.

Zack Lorenzo is an ex-cop from Chicago who turned in his badge and started investigating the paranormal following the strange and eerie death of his wife. His investigation into her death led him to a small town in West Texas and into the world of Sheriff Josephine "Jo" James. Jo has had her own brush with the paranormal. Several years ago, when she worked as a miner, she'd been trapped in a cave-in where most of her team, including the man she loved, were killed. But she was attacked when the dead came to life and barely managed to escape. She thinks the nightmare is behind her, until Zack comes to town with his own tale of the walking dead. Reluctant, though determined to get at the truth, Jo decides to work with Zack, even though Zack doesn't want a partner, much less a woman as a partner. Jo quickly proves herself to be as tough as the chauvinistic Zach. And as much as he would like to be rid of her, Jo is not the kind of woman who takes no for an answer.

The investigation into the case was fascinating. I don't know much about witches and spells and the differences between various magic based religions, but Vaughn explained it very well. She spent a lot of time creating her fantastical world and it shows. The minute peculiarities of each magical faith were interesting and while the characters who represented each one had little screen time, the author did a great job making them individual and varied characters in their own right. As Zach and Jo plunged further into the case, the darkness surrounding them felt more and more palpable, leading to many chilling and eerie moments, some of which surprised this reader and certainly kept me turning the pages.

The relationship between Zack and Jo was equally wonderful. Both Zack and Jo were strong and dynamic characters, perfectly matched for one another. Sure Zack was chauvinistic, stubborn and bossy, and while he could've come across as annoying, the writer counterbalanced his annoying side with his gentler, warm and compassionate one. His mixture of kind and infuriating traits was part of the reason why Jo (and the reader) found him so lovable. And Jo was more than his match. Unlike lesser heroines, Jo wasn't bowled over or pushed aside by Zach's overbearing nature and gave as good as she got, without being a shrew or a foot-stomping hoyden.

I loved watching as their emotional barriers slowly fell away and they found a love neither of them wanted, but soon couldn't live without. The author set a light touch among the darkness surrounding the two by infusing humor throughout the story, which made their relationship all the more appealing. Their reaction to what was going on around them - and to each other - had me chuckling at times. But despite the intense love between Zack and Jo (which culminated in a great love scene), one thing I did like was that neither previous relationship either of them had were diminished or depicted as 'lesser' than what Zack and Jo had. I found that refreshing.

Vaughn also created a couple of wonderful secondary players in Ashley, a magic dabbler who helps with the case, and Cecil, Zack's partner, who comes on late into the case. I loved them both. It was nice seeing Ashley and Jo form a friendship as well as seeing the bond between Cecil and Zack, both very different people who manage not only to be partners, but best friends.

All this was topped off by a show-stopping ending right out of any top notch horror or SF film. The final showdown between Zack, Jo and the horror that they face (which was not what I was expecting - and a nice surprise) was exciting and action packed. It was riveting, breathtaking reading and had me eagerly flipping through the pages as fast as I could turn them. In the end, I was sorry it was over and wondered what happened to those characters beyond the HEA since the author made it clear they'd move on to new adventures. For me, when the characters continue to linger in my mind long after the book is over is the true mark of a keeper. It's also got me on the hunt for the author's previous books, so luckily for me, I've got a lot of wonderful reading ahead.

Reviewed by Anthony Langford
Grade : A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : February 17, 2003

Publication Date: 2003/02

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