What the Heart Knows

Kathleen Eagle, Author William Morrow & Company $22 (375p) ISBN 978-0-380-97705-5

The shifting economics and shady business dealings brought to Native American reservations by legalized gambling are the backdrop for Eagle's (The Last True Cowboy; The Night Remembers) latest romantic suspense novel. The protagonist of this leisurely paced story is 38-year-old Helen Ketterling, a white woman who, while working undercover for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (as a blackjack dealer trained to spot corruption in the casinos), is forced to confront her feelings for her Lakota ex-boyfriend, former NBA all-star Reese Blue Sky. Both Helen and Reese have secrets. Not only must Helen lie about her job--to Reese and his brother Carter, who manages the Pair-a-Dice City casino--but she never told Reese that he's the father of her 12-year-old son, Sidney. Reese, meanwhile, is afraid to tell Helen the real reason he retired from basketball--his potentially fatal heart condition. The two become embroiled investigating the possibility that Reese's father was murdered because of his attempts to oust the criminal owners of the casino, who are white. In the generic romance-novel formula of crossed-signals and push-pull arguments, the lies and mysteries between Reese and Helen are revealed slowly, keeping the two lovers apart till the end. Eagle admirably avoids clich trappings in her prose, and the reservation setting is well researched and poignantly rendered. These fresh details help to surmount the sometimes lumbering and predictable plot, and enliven the occasionally two-dimensional main characters. (July)