Love Mercy

Earlene Fowler, Author Berkley Publishing Group $24.95 (325p) ISBN 978-0-425-22597-4

The mysteries of the human heart fill Fowler's first of a sweet new series about Love Mercy Johnson of Morro Bay, Calif. This delightful departure from her Benni Harper mysteries (Tumbling Blocks, etc.) features cameos of Benni and husband Gabe, but Love, photojournalist and co-owner of the Buttercream Cafe, takes center stage with former Las Vega cop Melina ""Mel"" Le Blanc and Love's 18-year-old granddaughter, Loretta Lynn ""Rett"" Johnson. Rett suddenly arrives in San Celina County with a banjo stolen from her two-timing ex-boyfriend, Dale Bailey. Thirteen months have passed since Love lost her husband, Cy, and 14 years since Tommy, Rett's father, died. As Christmas approaches, Love must deal with Dale's hot pursuit of said banjo, her father-in-law's struggle with Alzheimer's and Mel's brush with a menace from her Vegas past. Fowler delivers some wise lessons on life (e.g., ""Looks fade... a good heart doesn't"") in a heartfelt tale sure to please her fans.