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Three and one half moon gifSt. Martin's Minotaur (Paperback),
ISBN 0-312-97284-9
If there were every any doubt, Martha Lawrence's novel "Aquarius Descending" makes the case for quality in mystery series. In Lawrence's third book featuring heroine Elizabeth Chase, the psychic private investigator takes on a vicious cult, The Bliss Project. As one of the characters explains, The Bliss Project employs "training that gives recruits just enough power to feel high and just enough oblivion to get trapped." Disguised as a naïve recruit living in an ashram, Chase finds herself battling the cult to keep control of her own mind, while trying to locate her fiance's missing and endangered ex-girlfriend, Jen. 

Book: Martha C. Lawrence, Aquarius DescendingLawrence researched cults and their tactics well, and she seamlessly integrates that research into her story. The charming but businesslike Chase identifies common cult "recruitment" tactics such as sleep deprivation, tedious work, and inadequate portions of low-protein food. At the same time, cult recruiters never leave Chase alone and constantly question her while providing no opportunity for Chase to ask her own questions. When Chase realizes that her dreams have stopped -- a crisis for a psychic -- Chase must decide whether the $25,000 retainer and the threat to Jen warrants staying on a case that defeated two previous investigators. 

Book: Martha C. Lawrence, Pisces RisingIn addition to well-drawn characters, Lawrence relies on slow but steady pacing, with artful plot twists reinvigorating a constant sense of menace that never overwhelms, but never vanishes either. No one's blood pressure will rise while reading this book. Yet the book takes a series of unexpected turns at the end, including a real shocker. Through it all Elizabeth Chase proves a winning heroine, and readers who take the time to get to know her will be richly rewarded. 

Elizabeth Sheley

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