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Three and one half moon gifSt. Martin's (Paperback), ISBN 0312975767
Carlene Thompson probably won her share of scary story contests held around the midnight campfire. One of her best tales unfolds in her tension-packed mystery Don't Close Your Eyes.

Book: Carlene Thompson, Don't Close Your EyesThe pastoral little town of Port Ariel, Ohio, nestled on the shores of Lake Erie, turns into an eerie haven for a serial killer -- a killer who could easily be a neighbor, lover, spouse or trusted friend.

The return of native daughter, Natalie St. John, sets off a string of messy, heartless murders. Natalie wants only to reconnect with her roots and old friends while recovering from a broken heart. Natalie quickly realizes that bigger problems beset her than just loving the wrong guy.

The author disappoints when she resorts to the cliched catching-fiancé-in-bed-with-younger-woman motivation for Natalie's flight to the country, but it's only a fleeting wince of trite writing. The big-town sheriff who moved to the country serves as an antagonistic love interest diverting Natalie from her heartache. He also provides another complication in a fascinating storyline.

Book: Carlene Thompson, Tonight You're MineNatalie's friends, twin sisters Lily and Tammy, confront their own problems, including their father's love interest and her wacky daughter. Natalie discovers her father involved with a woman who looks like a strong contender for wife. Perhaps he finally recovered from the day Natalie's mother abandoned them.

Thompson crafts suspenseful scenes that combine in a compelling mystery. Blood stains the early pages, turning a serene walk down a shady lane into a sinister landscape overshadowed by human violence. The author creates a setting of long-neglected buildings with nefarious histories and plunks down an innocent victim in the dim and shadowy midst.

Ordinary people who share a dark past face extraordinary situations, and everyone looks suspicious. The murders, vicious and unprovoked, continue throughout the book. Just when you think you know whodunit, your suspect turns into the next victim.

The interactions between family members prove the weakest element of the story, relying as they do on stereotypical relationships. And Thompson doesn't always play fair, failing to foreshadow or introduce key elements until the moment the secrets come to light. Yet, despite these shortcomings, the book's strong narrative and spine-tingling tone carries the reader along to a satisfactory ending.

Put aside the murders and suspense, the secondary story Thompson weaves involves a Lassie-like canine who steals each scene. I fell for the dog, sometimes skimming the blood and gore, in search of doggy footprints. Animal lovers will fall for this sweet animal which dedicates itself to protect and defend whomever it adopts. The dog provides a counterbalance to the human violence.

Readers who like strong women, macho yet vulnerable men, loveable animals and pages dripping blood, should enjoy Don't Close Your Eyes.

Dawn Goldsmith

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Readers Respond:

Just a question, really. In Don't Close Your Eyes by Carlene Thompson there is a sentence that doesn't make sense. On page 63 it says, "Over Charlotte's shoulder Warren saw Lily . . . " As far as I can tell, Charlotte is not even in the room, and it is Viveca who has Warren in an embrace. Is the foregoing a mistake not caught by the proofreaders? Just curious. I proofread the novels of my sister, also a published author, and I catch these things with her, too; usually from a rewrite that didn't catch all the changes.

So far, I'm enjoying the book immensely, but I must read slowly to absorb all the characters and their relationships to each other, which are very complex and connected in so many ways. Thanks,

Toni Duncan