In Hot Pursuit
Cozy British villages in mysteries and rural American towns in romance both have become staples of their respective genres. Each genre has conventions attached to the locales. In all those cozy British burgs the people lead seemingly normal lives, while beneath the surface they’re seething with murderous secrets. In the romance genre, the conventions of a rural setting include at least a half dozen beloved, quirky characters who are convinced they know best for the heroine. In Hot Pursuit combines the conventions of the genres and after a slow start, largely succeeds.
For twenty years Jenna MacArthur has lived in Pfister, Missouri as Jenna MacArthur. Prior to that she was Liz Rivas, a young widowed cop who witnessed her husband’s murder and entered the witness protection program (WPP) to safeguard her infant son and her mother. In those twenty years, Jenna made a new life for herself. She runs MacArthur Perk, a combination antique/secondhand/coffee shop, she raised her son Sam, who is now a rookie police officer in Pfister, and she has kept her previous life secret. Only her mother Aggie, who moved to Pfister with her, knows about her past. All that may change with Paul Haggerty’s arrival in town.
Paul knew Jenna as Liz, though she doesn’t recognize him. Twenty years ago Paul was her husband’s rookie partner with a secret crush on his mentor’s wife, Liz. After a serious car accident left Paul near death and physically changed, he set out to find the woman of his memories. And while he knows that after twenty years Jenna is a different person, Paul has sought her out in Pfister and hopes to explore what was and what could be.
Paul’s appearance in town unsettles Jenna’s comfortable existence. Certainly she’s very attracted to him, but it’s more then that. Over the years she’s learned that there’s no getting beyond living in the WPP. You either are or you aren’t. If you are then you have to be completely aware at all times that you are. Slipping into old patterns and behaviors is all too easy if you dwell too much in what was or might have been. The here and now is all that matters, so any change is cause for concern. And the arrival of a sexy man with a very real interest in Jenna is a big change.
Because of the setting – small, rural town with an abundance of quirky characters who all like and watch out for each other – and the slow start to the romance, I wasn’t loving Ledbetter’s latest. I wasn’t hating it either. I liked that this was a build-up to a romance between a forty-something woman and a forty-something man. I liked that Jenna’s life in the WPP was used to explain and define who she was and wasn’t used as an excuse to make this into a “woman in jep” story.
About a third of the way through the book a couple of things happened to get the book beyond a middling grade. Talking about them specifically would be too much of a spoiler. Generally they had to do with the complications of Jenna and Paul’s past making the relationship difficult and an unrelated suspicious death. Both these events made what was a middling, fairly commonplace romance, into something else entirely.
The slow start and the presence of a few overused character types kept this from a straight glowing review. It was close. As a reviewer I’m required to label each book. In this case I went with Romantic Suspense because it’s a familiar and accessible term. What In Hot Pursuit could more logically be called is Romantic Mystery. Which brings us full circle, back to the mixing of the cozy mystery with the small-town romance. That’s what Ms. Ledbetter has done so ably with her newest book.