Come Sundown by Helen R. Myers
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-436-4
****
Parish, Mississippi, had its own version of Boss Hawg in Sumner Maitland. A cancer diagnosis brought his reign of avarice to a screeching halt. Seeking to protect his empire from parasitic attorneys and looking for someone to guide his twin teen-agers, Sumner married his nurse, Eve Hudson. Eve makes no apologies for the loveless marriage of convenience, but after his death, she seeks to rectify some of his more egregious conduct. The financial doings are easy compared with the challenge of trying to straighten out two teenagers.

Ben Rader left Parish years ago after a fight with his father. His father was killed before they could reconcile their differences. While working in Jackson as a detective, Ben is offered his father's old position as chief of police. Exchanging big city life for the memories and hurts of a small town has little appeal for Ben until he learns of the suspicious death of Lem Cobb. Because Lem's brother, Luther, and Ben were childhood best friends, Ben agrees to accept the position of chief of police, vowing to discover the truth.

The previous police investigation was indifferent at best, and Lem's death had been ruled an accident. Luther and their mother, Mama Lulu, think otherwise. Mama Lulu has been the Maitland housekeeper for years and is Eve's best friend.

The truth is obscured, partially by ineptness and partially by the indifference of this southern community to the death of one of their ne'er do wells. Lem was involved in petty crime, but always on the fringe never bad enough to be truly bad, but not good either.

When Ben arrives in Parish, he finds some racial prejudices still intact. Luther and his wife's grocery store is being boycotted and they have become a target of hate. One of Ben's first stops is Maitland Manor to make a condolence call on Mama Lulu and to pay his respects to the widow Maitland. Sparks immediately fly between Ben and Eve and readers can settle back knowing that the future portends a stormy, but occasionally humorous relationship between two equally strong characters.

Ben has competition in an old adversary, the slick, wealthy adjacent landowner Perry Ashworth who sees Eve as an opportunity to merge his land holdings. Of course, the fact that Eve is tremendously attractive doesn't hurt.

Eve and Ben have the usual baggage that comes with troubled childhoods and failed relationships, but the natural witty dialogue in their developing romance adds additional depth to the pleasures of reading an excellent romantic suspense novel.

Myers has either meticulously researched small town southern living or she has been there. With unerring accuracy, she captures the ambiance of a small community permeated by evil, and succumbing to the good ole boy syndrome when threatened by events they don't understand. Add to this background a tightly knit suspense plot, a fun romance, strong secondary characters and you have the framework for a very good novel.

But these are not the only strengths of this book. Myers has developed her characters with true finesse and sometimes even poignancy. This enables her to make Come Sundown a relationship driven book. She expands the novel to emphasize the characters' interactions with each other, with the crime itself, and with the community and its problems and prejudices. As sophisticated as this structure sounds, it can be reduced to simple terms: Come Sundown is a great read and one in which you really, really like the good guys, really, really hate the bad guys, and where you are always cheering on the budding romance of Eve and Ben.

--Thea Davis


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