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Siren's Secret - Debbie Herbert

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for this review. 

I don't usually read Harlequin romances. When I was growing up, they had the reputation of being the cheap novels you bought at the checkout counter. All of them had the same basic plotline: Young, innocent woman goes to some exotic location and meets a man dressed like Fabio. THey have an instant attraction, and fall into a night of steamy lovemaking. After some intervening issues, they come back together and profess their everlasting love for each other. There's even a book, first published in 1984 and still available on Amazon, called the Romance Writers' Phrase Book, which has all kinds of phrases romance authors can use to punch up their novels. I remember Johnny Carson parodying this on the Tonight Show with a segment called You Are the Author, where he allowed audience members the chance to write romance novel phrases. Besides all of this, as a 50 year old heterosexual man, I'm not their target market. 

All that said, this is not the stereotypical Harlequin Romance novel. You had a creepy guy who was the murderer (this is established at the beginning of the novel, so it's not a spoiler). He likes to collect dead bugs, which reminded me of Silence of the Lambs. (I almost expected the killer to be wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask at some point.) Then, somehow, a mermaid finds the body in the ocean and brings it to shore so the sheriff can find it. In typical Harlequin fashion, the sheriff is a hunky guy, and the mermaid is drawn to him for a night of passionate lovemaking. However, this part is kept to a minimum. The sheriff has a developmentally disabled brother and an alcoholic mother. The mermaid has 2 mermaid cousins who specialize in treasure hunting. The novel follows all the characters as they interact with each other, until the climactic final scene. This actually reads like a mystery novel rather than a romance. You feel for the sheriff and his family. You understand the mermaids' motivation to keep things secret. The killer is somewhat stereotypical, but even there, there are some things from his past that play a big part in his future. It ends with enough loose ends to possibly generate a sequel. I haven't said too much, because I don't want to spoil the ending, but there is a lot more going on in this book. All in all, a good book. I don't know if I'll read any more Harlequin books (except to review them), but I won't dismiss them any more either.