Jon Hassler, Author . Viking $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-670-03125-2

A natural disaster threatens the unique rural charm of Hassler's Minnesota village in the latest installment in his ongoing series, which maintains much of its entertainment value despite his decision to bring back a secondary character from an earlier volume as his fussy, pedantic protagonist. Agatha McGee is the 80-year-old sixth-grade teacher who is beginning to dread the onset of old age, so much so that a local radio personality suggests that she hold her own memorial party in advance to try to get a lift from the tribute. What invigorates Agatha instead is the threat of a flood, which distracts her from her preoccupation with local gossip and causes her to offer shelter to several troubled residents, including a combative mother and daughter as well as several friends and acquaintances. Her immediate neighbors quickly evacuate when the water rises to record levels, but the disaster brings out Agatha's stubbornness as she insists on staying in her hilltop house with her erratic guests, turning the disaster into a smalltown version of an adult slumber party. Hassler's compassion for his characters remains resolute as he describes their hidden passions and concerns, although a subplot in which Agatha encourages a struggling older woman to assume her dead sister's identity is muddled and ineffective. The popularity of Hassler's series is due to his skill in depicting, with warmth and insight, the quaint shades and nuances of rural life. While this book isn't quite up to the level of some of his earlier efforts, it represents a solid start in his first novel from Viking. (Sept. 16)

Reviewed on: 07/29/2002
Release date: 09/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 209 pages - 978-1-57490-439-0
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