East of Peculiar

South of Sanity by Suzann Ledbetter
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-797-5
South of Sanity, the sequel to East of Peculiar, is marketed as a romance. But a word of warning to those of you that prefer your romances with an emphasis on the romantic elements...the hero and heroine in this book spend the majority of time apart. Which is too bad really, because in every scene they share, the pages fairly crackle with romantic tension.

Forty-three-year-old Hannah Garvey, one time senior account executive for a Chicago advertising agency, has escaped the rat race and has secured a more relaxing position as resident manager of the Valhalla Springs retirement community in the Missouri Ozarks. Or so she thinks.

But things spiral out of control from the moment she arrives. Hannahís been appointed leader of a group of senior sleuths to help solve the murder of one of the residents, counseled resident IdaClare Clancy after her arrest for growing medicinal marijuana, and found herself inexplicably attracted to the townís thirty-something sheriff, David Hendrickson.

In South of Sanity, the relationship between David and Hannah begins to heat up. Unfortunately things grind to an abrupt halt when David is accused of manslaughter. A case of suicide by cop, or so David claims.

But thereís no gun found on the victim, no suicide note found and worst of all, no gunpowder residue on the victimís hands to support Davidís claim the victim fired first. Itís up to Hannah and her troop of elderly gumshoes to solve the mystery before David winds up in prison.

As a romance, South of Sanity is particularly frustrating. Iíve been waiting for two books for these two to get together. Theyíre perfect for one another, the reader knows it and by now even David and Hannah realize it. But outside influences continually interfere and itís making me crazy.

On the other hand, as a who-dun-it South of Sanity shines. Author Suzann Ledbetter creates a nearly impossible tangle for Hannah and her senior sleuths to unravel and provides a resolution that is logical and satisfying.

Of the two books, I prefer South of Sanity, particularly its character development. Hannah is softer here,less wise-cracking, more vulnerable. And I like David much more in this book. I shared his frustration at being railroaded to jail for a crime he didnít commit.

Iím uneasy at the portrayal of the seniors in this book. Cutsey, goofy, stereotypical retirees used for comic relief that I, quite frankly, do not find the least bit funny. Itís this depiction of the elderly residents that make the books in this series difficult to recommend.

Still, Iíll be there for the next book in the series, North of Clever, to see if Hannah and David finally get together.

--Karen Lynch

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