West of Bliss
Fans of Suzann Ledbetter’s Valhalla Springs series will no doubt be looking forward to her new offering, West of Bliss. While I found the premise and the characters cute, they were a little too cute at times. The story moves along fairly snappily but I was left feeling unfulfilled. When reviewer Ellen Micheletti reviewed East of Peculiar, the first in this series, she said it was likable but she never got that “Go away, I’m reading!” feeling. She summed up my Ledbetter experience perfectly. It’s an easy book to pick up, but it’s also really easy to put down.
When sheriff David Hendrickson asks Hannah Garvey to marry him, she’s stunned and doesn’t know how to answer him. Luckily for her, she doesn’t have to, as a police situation calls him away. I gather this happens quite often. She still has no clue how to answer David even as they attend a going-away party for Eulily and Chet Thomlinson. There’s no love lost between Hannah and Eulily, but Hannah certainly doesn’t wish her dead, which is exactly what happens. A gunman barges into the banquet and manages to kill two people (one of whom is Eulily) and wound others. Two of the wounded are residents of Valhalla Springs – IdaClare Clancy and Sophonia Pugh. Before David can shoot the gunman, ex-Secret Service agent Chet Thomlinson has shot and killed the man himself. But what provoked the gunman to begin with?
Not only do David and Hannah want to know, but so do the residents of Valhalla Springs. Once again, the senior citizen amateur detective brigade is put into action, led by our old friend Delbert. Delbert is a pretty cute old guy with some good moments in the story. Actually, the whole senior citizens getting into the action thing is cute, but too often it’s overly cute and their attempts at subterfuge become an annoyance rather than a fun plot device. It’s not tough to overdo the “let’s play amateur detective” thing; these oldies bordered on saccharine sweet once too often.
Meanwhile David and Hannah are still on uneven territory when it comes their relationship. She loves him but fears he expects more from her than she can deliver. She’s sure he’ll be disappointed. While David and the seniors are trying to figure out who Chet Tomlinson really is, how Jack Clancy is involved and what the heck happened that night at the banquet, Hannah is busy trying to find out the history between Sophonia and Jedo Oglethorpe. Let me tell you…that is some story and could have been a book in and of itself. I would have liked to delve into this more deeply; while the reader gets some inkling as to how this sub-plot is going to end, I wanted more.
While West of Bliss is pleasant enough, it wasn’t a page-turner. Imagine Angela Lansbury and Wilfred Brimley as Delbert and IdaClare in a made-for-TV movie and you’ll have a reasonable assessment of the book. David and Hannah are a likable couple, and I was invested in their relationship, but the rushed ending detracted from the overall plot and left me unsatisfied. “Pleasant but unmemorable” says it all for me.