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Now You See Him
by Stella Cameron
(Mira Books, $7.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-778-32219-X
**
Cameron revisits small town Toussaint, Louisiana, in her latest novel Now You See Him.  Ellie Byron ran away from her life at fifteen and kept running until she settled in Toussaint a few years ago.  Today Ellie is a successful bookstore owner and wants to keep a quiet normal life.  Unfortunately she’s not been successful at a “normal” life.

Two years ago Ellie saw a woman murdered with an ice pick during Mardi Gras.  Despite Ellie’s inability to recognize him in a lineup, Charles Penn was convicted of the crime.  Now Penn has escaped during transportation between prisons.  Another woman has been murdered with an ice pick in a jewelry store.  Is it Penn killing again? 

Turns out the murders are copied from books by bestselling novelist Sonia Elliot.  In Death at Mardi Gras a woman is brutally killed with an ice pick on the street in the middle of a Mardi Gras party.  In Death in Diamonds a woman is brutally killed with an ice pick in a diamond store.  As a bookstore owner, Ellie has an advance copy of Sonia Elliot’s newest release Death of a Witness.  As the title indicates this time the victim is a witness, just like Ellie.  When Ellie is attacked in a parking lot, she turns to her friend and attorney Joe Gable.  Can the two find who is behind the attacks before Ellie’s the final victim?

I can overlook a contrived plot for likeable central characters.  But with its wishy-washy main characters and predictable suspense, this one only achieves two heart status.  Ellie continually insists that she doesn’t need a man to take care of her, but she always finds herself in a situation where she needs rescuing.  Her constant back and forth telling Joe she doesn’t need him and then asking him to sleep on her couch to guard her is very frustrating.  Ellie couldn’t just admit that sometimes help is needed. 

Then there is Joe who treats Ellie like a china doll.  Joe has loved Ellie ever since she moved to Toussaint, and until recently he was willing to be just friends.  Realizing she has a hidden past, Joe figures he can be patient until she is ready to tell him about it.  He keeps things from her while searching for her attacker.  I prefer heroes who treat the heroine like a woman with a brain.  But then since Ellie acted like a twit, maybe Joe did the right thing after all.

Now You See Him includes a large cast of secondary characters from the small town.  As is typical of many small towns, each of those characters is either quirky or has some drama in his her life.  Like Wazoo who thinks she can talk to cats and dogs or Cyrus the priest who’s in love with the church’s caretaker.  All of the local townspeople are carried over from Cameron’s previous books.  But in this novel, she left out a lot of the back story.  It took me about three-quarters of the book to figure out the individuals’ on-going dramas.

With characters that didn’t inspire, I can’t recommend this story.  Although if you’ve liked the previous books set in Toussaint, Louisiana, you might enjoy it more than I did.

--Terry Lawrence


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