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A Body to Die For by Kate Hoffman
(Harl. Temp. #697, $3.75, PG) ISBN 0-373-25797-X
****
A Body to Die For introduces us to Jackson Beaumont, the second bodyguard in the 'Hero for Hire' series, bodyguards who work for S.J. Slade's San Francisco bodyguard agency. There are still three more "Heroes for Hire" for us to meet, one a month through December. Considering that book one, JoAnn Ross' 1-800-HERO was a top shelf keeper for me and that A Body to Die For is also high quality, it makes me speculate that this agency has hunky heroes aplenty with lively, compelling stories to tell us.

Jackson Beaumont is an ex-navy SEAL who works for S.J. Slade. If you read 1-800-HERO, then you'll love Jack's references to Lucas Kincaid, the hero of the first book. Jack is bowled over when he meets his next assignment, widow Madeline Parmentier. Maddie hires Jack to guard her dead husband's body, lying in state at his Louisiana home.

Sounds bizarre, I know, but Maddie's husband, Judge Lamar Parmentier, died under mysterious circumstances. Maddie and the local sheriff are circulating rumors that Lamar is still alive. They're hoping that the murderer will return to see if Lamar is really dead. Of course he is. Isn't he?

Jack and Maddie are interesting, fleshed out characters with honest emotions. Relating to these two was easy and entertaining. When the details of the story are slowly explained, the situation becomes more amusing. Stories with people who have lived life fully, who have life experiences that make them more three-dimensional, are great fun to read. Both these characters are interesting, particularly Maddie, who met the Judge when she was a juvenile delinquent living on New Orleans streets. The fact that she's escaped her past is evident; she's a chef with Paris credentials. Jackson, an ex-SEAL, has his own tales to tell.

The most interesting secondary character ever to fry hush puppies is Calpurnia Winslow, the Judge's cook, who believes that cooking with lard is the natural order of things. When she and Maddie discuss healthy cooking, it's comical to be able to eavesdrop.

A Body to Die For is my favorite kind of mystery. It's light, breezy and takes a backseat to the developing relationship. Die-hard mystery lovers may be disappointed at the simplistic resolution, but as usual, I had no clue. I was too busy being charmed by Maddie and Jack. Maddie is too hardheaded toward the end of the book, but Jack, being a super hero, prevails. That's good news for all of us.

Even better news is that Patricia Ryan, Margaret Brownley and Ruth Jean Dale have 'Heroes for Hire.' The next three months look mighty good indeed.

--Linda Mowery


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