Catching Kelly

Chasing Rainbow

Letting Loose

Next Stop, Paradise

Tempting Mr. Wright

As Rachel Lee:

After I Dream

Before I Sleep

Caught

A Conard County Reckoning

Cowboy Comes Home

A Fateful Choice

Involuntary Daddy

A January Chill

Mistletoe Kisses

Nighthawk

Snow in September

Under Suspicion

When I Wake

 
Next Stop, Paradise by Sue Civil-Brown
(Avon $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-380-81180-4
**
Comedy is very difficult to write. It becomes difficult to read when the author believes that “funny” is synonymous with “dumb.”

Samantha Bartlett is a police officer in Paradise Beach, Florida. Several years earlier she decided to stop being a small cog in a big corporate machine and took up community police work. Although she wanted to do something important, she didn’t really want to deal with crime or criminals so she deliberately sought a job in a quiet, law-abiding town.

Derek Diche is a former news correspondent who has seen too much of the world’s seamy underbelly. Following the death of his wife he gave up journalism and now has his own television program on which he debunks flamboyant mysteries. Derek is taking a holiday on Paradise Beach to visit his Aunt Mary.

Sam and Derek meet when mysterious, large, reptilian footprints are found on the beach one morning. Because the citizens have seen too many movies, wild theories immediately run rampant. Do the footprints belong to a sea monster? Godzilla? A Tyrannosaurus Rex?

The next morning the situation is inflamed by the discovery, in the same location, of a slimy white sphere, four feet in diameter. Again the locals, led by their elected officials, can’t wait to panic over the most crackpot speculations which range from some kind of gigantic caviar to a sea-monster egg to an alien space ship. Call the Marines! Bring on the B-52 bombers! Send for Agent Mulder!

Sam and her police chief boss are more concerned that Derek, who’s running around with a video camera, will make them all look foolish on international TV over what is clearly a hoax. On the other hand, with everyone anxiously leaping to hysterical conclusions, maybe a good debunker is just what they need.

To Sam’s alarm, she is assigned to keep watch over the “egg” and also over Derek. While she’s watching them, a parade of inept scientists poke and prod and scratch their heads over this huge thing, and a variety of clownish military and FBI types are brought in to wave weapons and badges and generally give law enforcement a bad name. At various times the egg bulges, burps and gives off an inexplicable glow. A dog bites a hole in it. Still its exact nature remains a complete mystery to all the “experts.”

The first problem with this book is that there isn’t really a plot, just lots of cartoonish characters behaving like boobs in the vicinity of the “egg.” The second problem is that there’s just barely a romance.

While in college Sam got taken to the emotional cleaners by a charming scoundrel and has therefore sworn off all men she finds even remotely attractive. Derek was devastated by the loss of his wife and is determined never to let anyone get close ever again. As character motivations go, these are pretty tired and the author adds nothing original. Sam and Derek fall in love, of course, but we never find out much more about them beyond what I’ve already told you, so both of them remain firmly two-dimensional.

This is, however, one dimension more than anybody else in the book gets. If I tell you that the mayor frequently shows up in public wearing flamboyant sleepwear and making wild demands it probably also tells you everything you need to know about what to expect from the people who elected him. The police chief, who believes the “egg” is a put-on, assigns Sam to egg duty then pretty much disappears because any voice of reason would clearly call a halt to all the ridiculous nonsense.

Although I won’t give it away completely (in case there are fans of Ms. Civil-Brown loyal enough to spend their money on this slight effort), I feel compelled to warn the rest of you that the central mystery is never resolved. You’ll spend a lot of time reading about something that, in the end, turns out to be just a lame hook on which to hang a lukewarm relationship.

And, unless you believe that “funny” is synonymous with “dumb,” you won’t find a lot of laughs along the way.

--Judi McKee


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