cover image Paradise County

Paradise County

Karen Robards. Atria Books, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-671-78645-8

Set in Kentucky bluegrass country, Robard's latest romance-cum-thriller (after Ghost Moon) is suspenseful and atmospheric, another winner by a doyenne of the bestseller lists. By turns the gory saga of a psychopath with a penchant for burning his victims alive and a tender tale of true love, the novel veers into extremes, but is still an engaging read. Joe Welch, the stalwart manager of Whistledown Farm in beautiful Paradise County, is a struggling single father possessed of an alcoholic dad, three kids and a passion for horseflesh. When his employer, Charles Haywood, turns up dead in the Whistledown stables, an apparent suicide, Joe knows trouble lies ahead, but he doesn't expect to be fired by Haywood's gorgeous, brilliant photographer daughter, Alex. Granted, Alex doesn't have much choice. Not only is her beloved father dead, but his financial empire has crumbled. Alex's woes soon multiply: informed by telephone that her duplicitous fianc has married someone else, she must also cope with her willful young sister, Neely, who has run away from boarding school to join Alex in Kentucky. Though Alex and Joe (described as ""sex on a stick"") start out on the wrong foot, events require them to get to know one another better, and sparks fly. Meantime, however, a resourceful local who makes Hannibal Lecter look tame threatens their happiness, their families and their sanity. Even though the narrative loses steam after a particularly strong first chapter, and Robards's villain is two-dimensional, readers will cheer and care for her protagonists. 125,000 first printing. (Nov.)