Tiel McCoy, the gusty heroine in Sandra Brown's Standoff, is like many protagonists: smart, ambitious (perhaps overly so), quick on her feet, and faced with a seemingly unreconcilable situation. A reporter by trade, Tiel is on her way to a much-needed vacation when she is diverted by an unfolding drama. The situation holds the promise of professional advancement, if only she can scoop the other reporters who will undoubtedly be in hot pursuit. Stopping at a convenience store to pick up some snacks and call her boss, Gully, Tiel unwittingly places herself smack dab in the middle of a botched robbery by a kidnapper and his alleged victim. Now a hostage herself, Tiel must insure that the kidnap victim, the daughter of a hotheaded Texas millionaire, survives a particularly nasty situation. Sandra Brown has written an infinitely readable suspense story with characters who are funny, tragic, sexy, and calculating. There is the feisty, newlywed senior citizen couple, Gladys and Vern; a couple of Mexicans who pose more of a threat than anyone could have imagined; Donna, the blabbermouth cashier; and the very mysterious and handsome man everyone calls Doc. And those are just the characters inside the convenience store. Outside are the Texas millionaire readers will love to hate, the unusually level-headed and fair minded FBI agent, the father of the kidnapper, and Gully, who flies into town to provide support to his star reporter. The major secondary characters, though, are of most interest. With the characters of Ronnie and Sabre, Brown sets up a suspense that is not only action-based but also emotionally driven. Readers will no doubt be rooting for the pair in a way that is surprising and refreshing. Through the ordeal she endures, Tiel is forced to face her own demons, and ends up failing miserably. It is through her failures that readers will come to recognize the very real humanity in this character. The question is: Can Tiel forgives herself for these mistakes? In short, Standoff has all the elements needed for suspense: danger (literal and figurative), emotional content, love, sex, and a whopper of an ending.

Crystal Williams's first book of poetry, Kin (Michigan State University Press) debuts this month.

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