All or Nothing

Now or Never

Sooner or Later

In a Heartbeat by Elizabeth Adler
(Delacorte, $24.95, PG-13) $24.95
Immediately after landing his private plane at New York’s La Guardia airport, fabulously wealthy land developer and entrepreneur Ed Vincent is shot. He nearly dies, but emergency room personnel save him. When he is asked who shot him, he answers, “Zelda.”

NYPD homicide detective Marco Camelia is assigned the case. He is unable to identify the mysterious Zelda until a beautiful woman rushes to the critically injured Ed’s hospital bedside. She is the peachy Melba Eloise Merrydew, sometimes called “Zelda” by her friend and lover, formerly of Georgia (Georgia peach Melba, get it?) but now residing in California.

Mel and her friend Harriet own and operate a household moving company. During a hurricane, Mel was driving her moving van when she spied a residence in Charleston, South Carolina, and entered through an unlocked door seeking shelter. What she saw was a dead body. She was grabbed by a threatening stranger and overheard him communicate by cell phone that Vincent wasn’t there but he’d get him the next time. He forced Mel to drive, but she escaped when she deliberately ran the truck into a tree. Mel persisted in her attempts to warn Vincent that his life was in danger, and romance developed between the two.

The detective first suspects Mel is the would-be assassin but after observing her devotion at Ed’s bedside realizes she cannot be. Camelia is not insensitive to Mel’s allure, and he enlists her assistance in delving into Ed’s background. Their investigation will reveal a long-buried past of murder and family treachery.

As a work of romantic suspense In a Heartbeat, is neither very romantic nor very suspenseful. I never felt very caught up in it. Reading this book is somewhat akin to being the ball in a ping-pong game. The story unfolds in a series of segments - many very short - from the perspective of Mel, Camelia, and even Ed, who is comatose but still mentally alert. Moreover, there are a number of flashbacks. The result is a jerky, headhopping (and locale-hopping) tale that never allows the reader to develop much empathy with any one character. The clues that point to the culprit and the vast conspiracy behind him are relatively late in coming so armchair detectives will have a tough time figuring out the whodunit for much of the book.

The character development - what there is of it - is weak and one-dimensional and is primarily merely reference to well-known celebrities. Mel is described as resembling Sharon Stone, Camelia as looking like Al Pacino, and Ed is clearly a younger, less flamboyant Donald Trump. Both Ed and Camelia seem to fall in lust with Mel because of her great legs. The most intriguing character, an elderly alcoholic woman who is the stereotypical fading Southern gentility eccentric, has a relatively minor presence in the story. And Riley, Mel’s daughter, and dog Lola seem to have no purpose in the story other than to be cute.

Elizabeth Adler is a well-known author with an impressive backlist. Readers who are interested in checking her out would be advised to choose an earlier title.

--Lesley Dunlap

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