Steeple Hill Café
It's been a few years and a few titles since I reviewed any of the Hideaway novels by Hannah Alexander (the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Mel and Cheryl Hodde). When I picked up GRAVE RISK, the latest book in the series, I found myself searching through my head to remember which character was which, despite Alexander's care in reminding readers. Fawn? She's the former teenaged prostitute. Jill is the one with severe OCD. Don't forget Blaze --- he had kind of a tough time with his foster father. Or was it his stepfather? Or was it Ramsay? I guess what I'm trying to say is that this is not a book that rewards stand-alone reading.
The action starts out briskly. Jill Cooper is visiting the local spa for the first time when her beloved friend and the town's former high school principal, Edith Potts, undergoes cardiac arrest. Just before she dies, Edith gasps a few words that make Jill wonder whether this death and a subsequent one are actually par for the course.
Meanwhile, two men have returned to town: Dr. Rex Fairfield and Austen Barlow (regular readers of the series will recognize them both), just as Edith's death strains the small Ozarks community and as beloved local doctor Karah Lee Fletcher prepares for her long-awaited wedding. There are a few subplots (Fawn worries more obsessively than Jill that Karah Lee won't want her around after the wedding; Blaze continues to act in a wise, saintly manner), but most of the action revolves around the deaths of two elderly townsfolk and Jill's attempts to figure out whodunit while evading the patently obvious fact that Rex is still in love with her after their 20-year-old broken engagement.
When Jill, in the midst of planning a high school reunion, realizes from conversations that something is tying her old classmate Mary Marshall to these deaths, she decides to get to the bottom of things. As usual, there is no shortage of get-togethers, usually at Bertie Meyer's and involving black-walnut waffles (this time around I was a bit more intrigued by the okra-and-cheese casserole one character cooks up).
The first Hideaway book that I reviewed (the aptly named HIDEAWAY) was fresh and interesting. Hannah Alexander has not lost the light spiritual touch --- GRAVE RISK still shows people reaching out to God in their own ways and at their own paces --- but here there is no corresponding lightness of pace. Except for the first chapter, the story dragged.
Since Mel is a doctor, many of the medical scenes and discussions ring fairly true. Why not a new series set at a larger, urban hospital --- even in Hideaway's nearby Branson? Come to think of it, that would allow some of the recurring characters in this series to reappear as well.
--- Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick
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