'Cry No More' short on smarts, long on fun

It's like eating a Twinkie. No, more like eating a box of Twinkies.

That's what it feels like to read Linda Howard's latest lightly disguised bodice-ripper. Like a Twinkie, "Cry No More" is soft and easy, and it leaves you feeling a little guilty for enjoying it so much.

It's August in El Paso, Texas, and Milla Boone has a mission. She has to find her kidnapped son while she fends off a dark, mysterious stranger and runs an organization called Finders, which is devoted to tracking down lost children.

As Boone delves into the trail left by her son's kidnapping, she travels to northern Mexico and unravels not only a baby-snatching scheme, but a plan fueled by sickos with a hankering for the cash brought by black-market body parts.

The story trips along quickly, but Howard's dialogue often feels forced, leaving the impression that some of her characters are a little dense:

"'Long night?' he asked. ...

"'Last night was. I hope tonight is quieter.'

"'What happened?'

"... 'It was a bad day. We found the runaway we were looking for, but she was dead.'

"'Yeah, that's tough. How old was she?'

"'Fourteen.'

"'That's a hard age. Everything feels like the end of the world, and you can't reason with someone who can't see tomorrow."'

Huh? A 14-year-old turns up dead, and all this guy can say is that's tough and 14 is a hard age?

But what "Cry No More" lacks in scenery, character development and smarts, it makes up for when Boone and the "dark stranger," James Diaz, team up to find her son. The steam provided by the good mother and the bounty hunter is predictable and overdone, sure. But in Howard's hands, the tension between the two characters certainly moves the story along.

"Fun" is the word for "Cry No More." It's one of those books that come in handy when you need an escape.

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