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Friday, May 3, 2013

Safe From Harm: A Sugar Land Mystery By Stephanie Jaye Evans

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Cynthia Chow

Check out details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

In this absolutely wonderful second mystery, preacher Walker "Bear" Wells is still recovering the from a gunshot he received in Faithful Until Death, but has actually settled back into life with his supportive wife Annie Laurie, his away-at-college daughter Meg, and his ballet-driven, fourteen year-old daughter Jo. However, it is an abrupt and alarming text from Jo that calls Bear and Annie Laurie home from an evening out to encounter a shocking sight: Jo cradling the body of her estranged friend, Phoebe Pickersley on the floor of Jo's bedroom.

After the death of Phoebe's mother by cancer, the eighteen year-old teenager was sent to live with her father and stepmother, Mark and Liz Pickersley-Smythe, to an affluent Texas community far from her mother's trailer park. Phoebe's piercings, Goth-girl makeup, awkwardness, and inclination to stretch the truth make her entrance into the family a rocky one that soon had her spending more time at the Wells household than her new home. It soon became obvious to all, that it was the maternal Annie Laurie who was the true attraction for Phoebe, and after some mean girl antics the girls were no longer on speaking terms. Phoebe retaliated with all of the fury and power a teenaged girl can wield, and it was only Bear's experience and his assistant's savvy that prevented the situation that only a whisper of the words, "inappropriate," "teenage girl," and "minister" could engineer. Unfortunately, the ministry's most promising intern is not so lucky and the loss of his membership ends whatever sympathy Bear may have had left for the very troubled girl.

Image source: Penguin

Phoebe's death by overdose brings in the young, arrogant, but very smart Detective James Wanderley, who both summons Bear's advice but yet is frustrated by his interference. The Wells family is a considerable force when their investigative power is united, and Annie Laurie's rage when Wanderley attempts to intimidate the couple, as he interrogates Jo, is a joyful sight. The abashed detective is soon fearful of putting his cowboy boots anywhere near her tabletop. The aftermath of Phoebe's death has Bear confronting his perceptions of her and how the continual rejection she received forged her into a furious force of rebellion whose path of rage everyone failed to stop.

While the mystery becomes Jo's guilt-ridden determination to prove that Phoebe never would have committed suicide, it utilizes a completely modern and social media-powered method of wielding out justice. The novel also focuses on Phoebe's inevitable downfall and failure of the adults to prevent it. The portrayal of a teenager who becomes alienated with her friends and family is all too real, making the tragedy all the more senseless and wasteful. Despite the very somber theme, though, Bear's wonderful narrative voice of wry humor, sarcasm, and practical sense make this a completely enjoyable and compelling read. With his massive former offensive lineman body (that merits the nickname "Bear"), refreshingly he is never seen as a hapless male in household of women, even as he confronts possible eating disorders, the complexity of women's friendships, and his daughters' first confrontations with failure. Bear's stint at baby-sitting two very precocious and spoiled pugs brings delightful humor that fits seamlessly into the novel without taking away from the serious tone. Bear's own dilemma of what it means when his daughter may be choosing a different faith than his own is fascinating and touching, and adds another layer to his relationship with her.

This is an absolutely delightful read, that mixes domestic fiction with a surprising mystery that completely lives up to the author's previous debut mystery. Bear and his family are a pleasure to know and the wait for the next in this series will truly be "unbearable."

To enter to win a copy of Safe From Harm, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Safe”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen May 11, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

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