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Sunday, June 1, 2008

In a Dark Season ($6.99), by Vicki Lane

What if Minette Walters and Sharyn McCrumb wrote a book together. It would be In a Dark Season, I think. It is set in Appalachia and uses the mystery and culture of the area, like McCrumb’s Nora Bonesteel books, and is twisty, turny, and dark, like Minette Walters’ books. The main character, Elizabeth Goodweather, is a widow, “newcomer” (who has been in the area only a couple of decades), and owner of a plant-growing business in a rural area. Her boyfriend, Phillip Hawkins, is a teacher and has a background in law enforcement. She has a good relationship with two adult daughters and a nephew who works on her farm.

Nola Barrett, a woman who has been a neighbor for a long time, but whom Elizabeth has just recently gotten to know better, tries to commit suicide. A brusque niece shows up while her aunt is recuperating, dismantles Nola’s household, prepares to sell her property to an ambitious development company, and warehouses her aunt in a care facility. Elizabeth suspects ulterior motives.

Lane also tells the tale of a love gone wrong in 1860 in interspersed chapters, and it is told well and with elegance. The relationship to the story told in the present, of course, becomes clear in due time.

The pace of the main story is excruciatingly and unnecessarily slow sometimes. Elizabeth’s life is in a state of suspension while she still grapples with moving on after the death of her husband. Although she has a good relationship with her boyfriend, Phillip Hawkins, she seems to move through a haze of ambiguity and indecision, and the reader is trapped with her temporarily. When the story gets moving again, secondary plots about missing people, past wrongs, and intolerance complicate and enhance the main story. Although I couldn’t muster much empathy for Elizabeth, many of her other characters caught my attention. And even my ambivalence towards Elizabeth didn’t amount to a hill of beans when, in the end, I found I had enjoyed the story very much.

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