The Man Behind the Cop

Janice Kay Johnson
May 2008, Series Romance
Harl Superromance #1489, $5.50, 243 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373714890

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Warm

There are times when I am not in the mood for a long, involved book. Instead I want a nice shortish read but one with heart, soul, and a good story to keep me involved for a few hours. So, I look for one of Janice Kay Johnson's Harlequin Superromances knowing that she delivers just what I want.

Karin Jorgenson is a psychologist and counselor who works at A Woman's Hand, a clinic that specializes in counseling for women and children. As the story begins, police officers Molly Beckstead and her partner Bruce Walker are supposed to come to the clinic and give a demonstration of simple self defense techniques. When Molly's sister goes into labor, Bruce comes alone. Karin is a bit leery of a lone male instructor since most of the audience is abused women, but Bruce proves to be an excellent teacher and he really connects with the women. After the lesson, Bruce and Karin hear the sounds of an assault, and discover one of the women, Lenora Escobar, unconscious and bleeding. Karin has been counseling Lenora for some time and Lenora had finally decided to leave her abusive husband and take the children. But Escobar found out her plan and in a rage he went after Lenora with a tire iron, later killing her aunt and taking the children before disappearing. Karin is devastated.

This event sets the plot in motion and there's even a nicely fleshed out sub-plot but The Man Behind the Cop isn't really a plot-driven book. Lenora's attack brings Bruce and Karin together and most of the book is about them and their growing relationship. The plot and sub-plot both shed light on Karin and Bruce so we can see who they are, what shaped them and how they change.

Karin is a pleasant, very together woman who loves her work. She isn't a starry-eyed idealist. She can't help but be affected by the horror she sees every day, but she focuses on the good things, and takes each day as it happens. She has a soft heart, and a cool head and is practically perfect (however, her militant vegetarianism was a bit off-putting, and I am practically one myself). Bruce is the tormented character in this book.

Bruce grew up in a home where his father was a tyrant and his mother a doormat. Bruce's father beat his wife and children and singled out Bruce for vicious verbal abuse as well. Bruce looks very much like his father and has his father's explosive temper. In true romance novel fashion, Bruce knows that he is just like his father and if he ever became intimate with a woman, he'd turn into the old man in a heartbeat. He has never allowed himself to connect with a woman on a deep level and the feelings he is beginning to have for Karin terrify him. She is beautiful, she is smart, she is everything he ever wanted in a woman, and their lovemaking is....well it's intense. Bruce feels guilty the first time they make love and thinks he needs to treat Karin like a porcelain doll, even though she tells him she loves the intensity of their lovemaking.

Bruce is a Big Brother to Trevor DeShon, a small for his age boy whose mother is a recovering drug addict divorced from his hot tempered alcoholic father. Bruce takes a fatherly interest in Trevor and thinks this will be the closest he will ever get to being a parent. When the boy's mother disappears, the social workers put him back with his father. Bruce is angry and does not trust Mr. De Shon, but as he observes the pair, it seems as though the man has changed. DeShon has a good job, faithfully goes to AA meetings and has taken anger management classes. He loves his son, and Trevor is bonding with his father. Can a leopard change its spots? Is heredity destiny? Bruce has a lot to think about as he grows close to Karin and searches for Escobar.

The ending of The Man Behind the Cop is pretty unrealistic - but it's also satisfying. The man who grew up with an abusive father and thinks he will be one too is a standard romance novel character, but Johnson makes Bruce Walker more than just a stock character. Bruce is like his father - actually is what his father ought to have been. Bruce is passionate and hot tempered like his father but he has something his father lacked - empathy. Bruce would never hurt anyone he loves. When he has to disappoint Trevor, his heart aches, and he would sooner take a bullet than let anything happen to Karin.

My list of series romance authors who are auto-buys continues to dwindle, but Janice Kay Johnson remains firmly on the top. She has the ability to write deeply romantic, deeply satisfying series romances that are deliver all the pleasure of a full length novel in a compressed form. If you have given up on the series form, I heartily recommend her books - for my money they are the best out there.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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