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RED HOT MURDER


By Joanne Pence

Avon, 2006 ($6.99)
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-075805-9
ISBN-10: 0-06-075805-8

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

Sometime restaurant critic, gourmet chef and bride-to-be Angie Amalfi is thrilled when her fiancé, San Francisco homicide inspector Paavo Smith tells her he needs to go off to the wilds of Arizona to help an old family friend. She's toying with the idea of having a Destination Wedding, and makes the trip with Paavo to see if the town of Jackpot might be the perfect place. Another reason for tagging along: Paavo has been reticent about sharing the details of his early life with her, and she's hoping that his return to a place where he spent many boyhood summers might get him to open up to her about those days.

Jackpot is every bit as colorful as she'd hoped, but maybe more so than she'd wished for. Her Prada mules aren't too practical on the wooden sidewalks of the town, and her couture outfits are a far cry from what the locals wear. Her mother, Serafina, was expecting a traditional wedding in the family's church and is not happy about the plan, even though she'd made a bargain with Angie to give her free reign over the wedding in exchange for letting her throw the engagement party she wanted.

Paavo's childhood friend Doc Griggs is troubled because of the suspicious death of a patient. Hal Edwards, a wealthy, eccentric landowner, had gone missing before, and his family thought he was just off on another lark until his body was found in a cave near the scene of a 19th century stagecoach robbery. Did ancient ghosts looking for missing gold do him in, or was it a more corporeal killer? Is the local sheriff as bumbling as she seems, or is she really a clever schemer? Will her nephew get to pursue his true dream career, or be stuck following in her footsteps?

Angie and Paavo stay in Edwards' mansion, now converted to the Ghost Hollow Guest Ranch, where the ambience is almost up to Angie's demanding standards. The family members who are also in residence are not exactly welcoming, however, and each seems to have some hidden agenda. Most of the town's citizens, in fact, seem to be hiding secrets and withholding information that could help Paavo solve the crime, and might even have helped prevent some other murders.

It is interesting to see Angie as a fish out of water in this quaint and colorful desert town. Always resourceful, she manages to make the best of it, although after several unpleasant events, not the least being on a runaway chuck wagon, she has second thoughts about that destination wedding idea. This is an enjoyable addition to the series.

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