Cover Me

I Think I Love You

It Takes a Rebel

Kill the Competition

Our Husband

Seeking Single Male

Too Hot to Sleep

Whole Lotta Trouble

In Deep Voodoo
by Stephanie Bond
(Avon, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-06-082057-8
Chalk this one up to mis-marketing. Bond’s latest works quite well as a cozy mystery with a touch of humor, but as a romance it falls flat. Depending on what you’re looking for, this one may or may not be a good addition to your reading list.

Penny Francisco’s divorce is final, but she’s having a hard time moving on. After catching her attorney husband, Deke, in bed with the local floozy, Penny got to keep her health food store and Deke got the rambling Victorian she lovingly restored. Health conscious Penny is still stung that Deke left her for Sheena, who runs the local tanning salon, and who is now painting her precious Victorian the color of Pepto Bismol.

Penny’s friends think that she needs to move on, and what better way to help her than to throw her a happy divorce party at the local bar? Mojo, Louisiana is currently overrun with tourists attending the local Voodoo Festival, but that doesn’t mean the locals have to run and hide. Penny reluctantly agrees, and admittedly has a little fun. That is until someone gives her the gag gift of a voodoo doll done up in Deke’s likeness. Egged on by partygoers, and alcohol consumption, Penny stabs the Deke doll in the heart – only to discover Deke’s body a short time later in his home office, stabbed in the heart.

The police immediately zero in on Penny, not because of voodoo, but because there was so much animosity between them. Not only was the divorce bitter, but Penny learns at her party that her former husband hid financial assets during the proceedings. Circumstantial evidence is piling up, and now everyone in town thinks she’s either a cold-blooded killer, a voodoo priestess or both. Lucky for Penny that handsome, junk food loving, private investigator, B.J. Beaumont comes riding to her rescue.

In Deep Voodoo has all the ingredients necessary for a charming cozy mystery. There are plenty of eccentric characters, local town color, a murder, and a decent suspense thread. Unfortunately, the romance gets lost underneath all of it. B.J. and Penny don’t really spend much time with each other until well past the 100 page mark, and by then they’re distracted by B.J.’s hunt for a missing girl and Deke’s murder. Their courtship, and the story, only takes place over a few days, and the sex scenes feel tacked on. The author does make the wise decision of not making the happily ever after too saccharine though, and it is rather believable. Readers won’t discover that Penny is miraculously pregnant with triplets – thank goodness.

What works so well here is Bond’s writing style and the story itself, which is rather fun. Who hasn’t known or been the woman scorned at some point? It’s entirely understandable why Penny is still stung by Deke’s betrayal, and by the fact that he has so easily “moved on” when she’s still suffering from the loss. She’s a woman many readers will find themselves relating too – despite the fact that she thinks tofu is edible.

The secondary characters all add a lovely dimension and give the story some color. There’s the 100-year-old woman who believes in voodoo and stops by Penny’s shop every morning; an employee who doesn’t realize he’s gay; another employee who has a mysterious boyfriend who probably doesn’t exist; Deke’s mother, who just happens to be town mayor; and the local woodsman who has a crush on Penny. Bond also adds a couple of out of town characters to the mix, so it’s no wonder that our hero gets a little lost in the crush. B.J. never really comes off as more than a nice, stand-up guy – which for the purposes of this story is probably all he needs to be.

Readers who enjoy lighter mysteries should find a lot to like here. In fact, this reviewer plans to recommend In Deep Voodoo to several exclusive “Mystery Only” readers she knows. However, readers looking for a bang-up, center stage, romance-intense read will likely be disappointed. Still, this reviewer was so taken with Bond’s fictional world and characters that I have every intention of picking up the next book in the series – which Avon says will be out in 2006. Depending on what you’re looking for, Bond’s latest may work some voodoo on you.

--Wendy Crutcher

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