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The Gingerbread Man    by Maggie Shayne order for
Gingerbread Man
by Maggie Shayne
Order:  USA  Can
Jove, 2001 (2001)

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Dilmun is a small, picturesque lake community in upstate New York. Summer has turned to fall and the locals are gearing up for their annual Halloween celebration. Then a stranger arrives claiming to be a late season tourist in town for a bit of R&R. Not everyone believes his story, especially police department employee Holly Newman. Taken unawares when he asks questions about a long-overdue book checked out by Holly as a child, her suspicions about the man turn to fear. How could he know that The Gingerbread Man was the book Holly's sister carried when she was abducted and murdered years before?

Discovering the mutilated bodies of a brother and sister have left Detective Vince O'Mally more traumatized than he cares to admit. His chief has removed him from the case and forced him to take a leave of absence, but O'Mally is determined to keep looking for the killer on his own. He promised the childrens' mother - a woman whose anguished face he can't get out of his mind. Finding the old library book at the scene is deemed an insignificant lead but it's the only one O'Mally has left once the FBI takes over his case. That book leads him to Dilman and to Holly Newman, a woman whose seemingly tough exterior is an illusion. As Vince digs into Holly's past and pushes her to remember events she'd rather forget, he discovers just how fragile she really is. Even so, he doesn't make it easy for her, not even when he realizes he's falling in love. Only Holly, and what she carries locked away in her mind, will stop a brutal killer who preys on innocent children. But will she and Vince discover that one crucial link before others put an end to their investigation?

Maggie Shayne is a versatile author whose credits range from category romance to fantasy. The Gingerbread Man is her first foray into romantic suspense and she doesn't disappoint. Nor does she shy away from the brutality of her theme - child predators - and how this crime affects those directly involved. Her story hooks you from page one in a short and poignant scene where Vince O'Mally promises Sara Prague to see her childrens' killer brought to justice. Shayne quickly and skillfully goes on to establish her lead characters in the reader's mind: O'Mally as a driven and dedicated cop; Holly as a woman on the edge of control, suppressing old fears and her horrible guilt over being unable to protect her little sister. A well rounded cast of townsfolk (some quirky and some downright suspicious) entertain, move the action along at a fast clip and keep readers guessing till the very end.

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