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Kiss the Moon by Carla Neggers
(Mira, $ 5.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-485-2
****
In Kiss the Moon Carla Neggers has assembled a fascinating cast of characters to solve a forty-five year-old mystery affecting residents of Cold Spring, New Hampshire. The story is character-driven; the suspense is marginal. Perhaps that is appropriate for this group of people, many of whom have been kept in suspense for forty-five years.

Penelope Chestnut lives in an old cabin inherited from her grandfather. Searching for maple trees to tap while enjoying an early March hike, Penelope lets her mind wander and loses her way. She glimpses what may be the wreckage of a plane that disappeared without a trace forty-five-years ago.

Despite working as a pilot for her family's small charter plane business, Penelope has a reputation for mishaps when on land getting lost in the woods, falling into a frozen lake in her youth. This time, Penelope finds her way home and reveals her discovery of the location of the ill-fated plane. The tale of the two lost lovers who disappeared with the plane has assumed legendary proportions, especially since Colt Sinclair was heir to a fortune and Frannie Beaudine was an adventurous local beauty.

As the media get wind of a possible sighting of the plane and swarm into the small town, Penelope reconsiders her revelation. Within twenty-four hours concern for her cousin, Harriet Chestnut, and for a hermit squatting on Sinclair land lead her to "recant." This does help turn the media around, but it does not dissuade Jack Dunning, a private investigator sent to follow-up the story by Colt's half-brother, Brandon Sinclair, nor does it deter Brandon's son, Wyatt from investigating on his own.

Recently, Wyatt survived a near fatal hiking accident and is attempting to resume his normal lifestyle as a Wall Street businessman. But Wyatt is unable to resist the lure of investigating the fate of his uncle and Frannie. Immediately after hearing about the wreck's discovery, he sweeps into Cold Spring and into Penelope's life. The adventurous young local sweeps him off his feet. The development of their relationship is the book's linchpin, holding together the elements of this complex story.

Harriet Chestnut, was abandoned as a baby left in an apple basket on the sidesteps of a local church, about the same time Frannie and Colt's plane disappeared. Harriet has harbored a lifelong fantasy that her birth parents are the lost couple in the ill-fated plane. Harriet's inn is a hub of activity, and the local sheriff courts her. A widower, he periodically proposes marriage to her and patiently stands by as Harriet is swept off her feet by Jack Dunning.

Neggers' characters are an odd lot. Their eccentricities run along the lines of what one anticipates in rural New England. Whether they become tedious depends on your tolerance for offbeat characters.

Aside from the plot and the relationships, authentic rendering of local touches makes Kiss The Moon a winner. The story's timing the month of March allows an appreciation of the effort involved in producing maple syrup, not to mention walking through snowy woods with and without snowshoes. Along with Penelope, your mouth will be watering for scones at a local inn similar to the one run by Harriet. Thanks to Carla Neggers for writing a book with such a wonderful depiction of contemporary New England.

--Sue Klock


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