cover image COLD DAY IN JULY


Stella Cameron, . . Kensington, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-57566-821-5

Popular romantic suspense writer Cameron (Glass Houses, etc.) concocts a gummy Cajun stew of a novel, cramming a cast of bayou denizens into this oddly off-balance offering. When Bonnie Blue, an enigmatic singer passing through Toussaint, La., is strangled at the local church, town residents assume her death has nothing to do with two other recent murders. Redhead Reb O'Brien, the local doctor, isn't so sure, and when Marc Girard, town prodigal son and Reb's high school crush, comes back to investigate the crime, matters become even more complicated. Marc believes Blue was his estranged older sister Amy; Reb is ready to believe him, but finds she must concentrate on her own safety when she and her poodle, Gaston, are attacked. Local priest Cyrus and his assistant Madge are also distraught, as they had been trying to help Bonnie Blue before she was killed. Cyrus's eccentric housekeeper, Oribel, and her beautiful, sly daughter, Precious, have their own ideas about what is going on, and Precious is involved in more than just plotting to keep her errant husband, Chauncey Depew, in line. Meanwhile, Marc finds himself still inexorably drawn to Reb, and she to him, just as when they were in school. Strangely for so ordinarily adept a writer, Cameron fumbles her plot and badly misjudges the novel's pacing. The dialogue is choppy and the ending is jarringly abrupt, as if missing a large piece of the action. (Sept.)

Forecast:Cameron has a proven track record, but even fans may be baffled by this latest.