Stella Cameron, . . Mira, $23.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-1-55166-745-4

Sensuality sears the pages of Cameron's newest contemporary romantic thriller, set in the sultry small town of Toussaint, La., but nearly every other element disappoints. Heirs of a run-down estate, Vivian Patin and her mother prepare to patch up their lives and the mansion at the same time. But a murder on the grounds throws their plans awry and Vivian into close company with handsome local deputy sheriff Spike Devol. Bad blood between Spike and the investigating detective forces Vivian and Spike to launch their own inquiry. As the bodies pile up, the two become entangled romantically. Though Spike and Vivian finally get in synch once their clothes come off, they spend the first half of the novel pulling each other aside "to talk" but never really communicating. Meanwhile, a number of secondary characters crowd the pages and muddy the pacing. Discouragingly, Spike seldom follows through on leads he uncovers and even offers the blithe opinion that Vivian's gardener, who disappeared the day of the murder, will turn up fine. It's no surprise, therefore, that Spike never guesses who the killer is. While the romance ties up satisfactorily, the mystery unravels in fits and starts and will likely leave many readers feeling cheated. Seekers of sexy thrills will flock to Cameron's latest (after Cold Day in July ), but those looking for a story with depth should give this a pass. Author tour. (Nov.)