NOTE OF PERIL: A Hideaway Novel
Singer Grace Brennan gazes thoughtfully into the eyes of her co-star, Michael Gold, gently teasing the audience into a playful banter somewhere between comedy and romance. While Grace croons, Michael responds in kind, neither one sure where the line between onstage pretense ends and off-stage real life romance begins. Set in Branson, MO, this couple finds themselves crusading against an unknown threat that sends Grace anonymous "gifts" with ominous overtones. Grace and Michael, both Christians, have their share of emotional baggage to contend with. Yet their friendship throughout this story presses them to individually grow to trust in God and each other.
As the main performers of "Star Notes," Grace and Michael dedicate themselves to going beyond merely entertaining their audiences. They are purposeful in providing wholesome, even spiritually inspiring, music that draws the best out in people. Yet, worthy as this goal is, when their director's mysterious death occurs, both Grace and Michael find themselves further embroiled in the unexplainable and are simultaneously challenged to compromise their standards. A real whodunit mystery begins as the couple looks around at fellow cast and crew trying to figure out who killed their director and why. But no clear answers are forthcoming, so the focus of the story is transferred to Grace's past and her disastrous relationship to her abusive father.
In the mire of this crime, Grace continues to receive more "gifts" with notes of warning. Distressed, she confesses to having fudged the rules some years earlier in a contest. But who knows about it? And who might profit from harming Grace's reputation? Further sub-plots emerge as the personal lives of fellow musicians, stagehands, and other associated Branson theater employees are dallied about --- none with any real effect on or consequence to the main plot.
As the days pass, Grace begins to feel ill; her voice is clearly affected, and Michael is worried. All around them, gossip and shoptalk affect their relationship, threatening it with distrust and certain demise. The real hero of this story is Michael, who in stalwart fashion never stops believing in Grace and offers forgiveness to her time after time. Sadly, the story often flags and not even the pivotal battle scene between life and death can save it. All too often the conversation reads "staged" and contrived. Much of the descriptions of the town of Branson also come across as too hokey and without much appeal to a general, national female reading audience.
Overall, this tale presents well at the beginning but then falls into a desperate hodgepodge of interconnecting minor stories and inconsequential players. Sadly, suspense didn't register either, for there weren't any real emotionally charged scenes that begged to be deciphered. Hopefully, the next offering in this series will provide more by way of punch and will read in a tighter, streamlined fashion.
--- Reviewed by Michele Howe
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