(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

“Romantic suspense” is a fairly tightly defined genre, with a tendency toward chases by terrifying unknowns, steamy romantic interludes, dealings with the mob, and a conflict between the female main character’s needs for independence and love.

Beachcomber is no exception, and its basic situation may strain credibility. Christy Petrino is on Ocracoke Island (off North Carolina) hoping to get away from her former fiance, whose association with the mob she has just discovered, when she finds herself the target of a serial killer who is torturing and murdering women who look like her. She doesn’t know who to suspect is at the bottom of a terrifying series of events which involve her. Her neighbor Luke Rand is an attractive surfer who always seems to be on hand whenever trouble strikes, and she doesn’t know why he always seems to be around or whether she should trust him.

The reader keeps reading despite the dubious premise, because the clever dialogue and rapid pacing of the thriller keep the pages turning. The beach background and the growing romance between Christy and Luke provide for fine entertainment, and the mind of the killer is presented in believable and frightening detail. The shifting back and forth from one consciousness to another—from killer’s to intended victim’s to would-be rescuer’s—heightens the suspense; clearly Karen Robards is a skilled storyteller. The deceptive beauty and restfulness of the beach contrast with the lethal events that take place there—and the combination will make the summer reader pleasurably nervous. The conclusion is interesting and unexpected enough to make Beachcomber an unusually satisfying example of the genre.