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Dead Certain    by Mariah Stewart order for
Dead Certain
by Mariah Stewart
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Rashmi Srinivas

Hardly has antiques dealer Amanda Crosby recovered from being assaulted by a violent stalker, than she finds herself the prime suspect in her business partner's senseless murder - thanks to a few thoughtless words spoken in anger. Her newly found courage shaken to the core, Amanda can only watch helplessly as Chief of Police Sean Mercer coolly sets about building the case against her, despite her (and her law enforcement brother's) protests of innocence.

Then another antiques dealer, who also happens to be Amanda's best friend, is found brutally murdered. While struggling to resolve personal issues regarding his newly found siblings, Mercer sets about trying to discover the truth, even as his gut tells him that Amanda's innocent. But with Amanda's deranged stalker safely locked up, there appears to be no viable suspect in sight. As the killer grows more and more daring, can the mystery be solved before it's too late?

In a tense, gripping narrative, Mariah Stewart's take on the classic movie Strangers On A Train continues with this second book in the series. Stewart goes straight for the jugular. The story unfolds at a breakneck pace with a series of seemingly random murders taking place, implicating Amanda Crosby. Stewart's approach of making readers privy to events while keeping central characters unaware, makes the former appreciate the bewilderment of law enforcement officials and Crosby's outrage as the case builds up against her while the true culprit plots and kills with cunning and patience.

Sensitive topics - such as stalking, its aftermath and emotional impact, adoption, finding people via the Internet - shape the story. Characters from previous Stewart books put in an appearance, maintaining continuity. The hurried, anti-climactic ending is somewhat disappointing, and doesn’t justify the great build-up of suspense and misdirection. But Dead Certain remains a good, well-crafted novel.

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