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    Review of IN THE CLEAR by Steve Lopez

    A DEATH ON DEMAND MYSTERY

    Harcourt, Inc. 2002

    Sheriff Albert LaRosa is serving out his time, unable to deal with a family violence case gone terribly wrong, his father's emotional desire to hang onto the family store, or his girlfriend's wish for something different. When developer Oscar Price offers LaRosa a position as head of security in his to-be-built casino, with a huge increase in salary, LaRosa sees it as a way to solve all of his problems. Unfortunately for him, his girlfriend thinks he's sold out and his father quickly becomes suspected of sabotaging the proposed development.

    LaRosa turns to drink for a solution but finds this only a partial out. He tries to balance his own desires with those of his family and his girlfriend but cannot reconcile the dramatically different positions.

    Author Steve Lopez delivers an intriguingly damaged character in Albert LaRosa. Unfortunately for the novel, none of the other characters possess even a fraction of LaRosa's depth playing out the roles of evil and corrupt developer, heroic shopkeeper, resentful youth, or whatever role Lopez seems to need. As solving the mystery of the bombings becomes secondary to the urge to protect LaRosa's loved ones, even LaRosa begins to lose his appeal.

    Lopez writes compellingly about the New Jersey shore, the superficial appeal of Atlantic City, and the corrupting influence of money. For me, at least, the fascinating description of this nasty world did not compensate for unsympathetic characters and superficial mystery.

    One Stars

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