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by Peggy O'Neal Peden
Minotaur, May 2017
258 pages
ISBN: 1250122686

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The opening scenes of YOUR KILLIN' HEART seem innocent enough. Campbell Hale, a travel agent who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, talks her way into helping collect some paintings from the widow of a country music legend Jake Miller simply because Campbell's dad was a big Miller fan. Campbell and her on-again/off-again boyfriend Doug Elliott go to the mansion where Hazel Miller lives in semi-seclusion amid memorabilia of Jake Miller's career and long-ago affluence on a seemingly straightforward, somewhat mundane mission. But by the time they leave, they not only have the paintings, they are also in the middle of a murder investigation. Hazel is found dead shortly after Campbell and Doug leave, and as Campbell and the police soon discover, there's a fairly long list of suspects, including Campbell herself. Campbell's curiosity gets the best of her common sense, and in spite of warnings from friends, family, and menacing vandalism, she continues to ask questions and dig up clues from both past and present that lots of people would prefer remained hidden. But truth will out, and following a multitude of often dangerous twists and turns, Campbell gets the killer—and, possibly, her man.

Author Peggy O'Neal Peden has lived in and around Nashville most of her life, and her insider knowledge shows. Setting is important to this story for giving some substance to the plot and for adding to the action, and Peden does a nice job of using her familiarity with both the city and its culture. She takes the reader to music clubs and neighborhoods, showing how much the country music culture is woven into the daily life of city but also how everyday happenings carry on in spite of high-powered deals and high-end politics taking place in studios and more well-known venues. That pervasive flavor of "the real Nashville" is a nice touch. Campbell Hale is another one. While her motivation for pursuing a case that's none of her business and is being handled by the police is sometimes a little thin, overall, Campbell is an exceptionally engaging character. She's smart, savvy, and fun to follow. She also has just enough romantic trouble to allow Peden to bring a touch of romance to the novel, but the mystery is far and away the main attraction, and the romance is just a nice way to do some character building.

Overall, YOUR KILLIN' HEART is a fast read, and the reader is likely to outpace Campbell and the police in getting to the solution, but that doesn't deter from the enjoyment of the ride. The novel features interesting, believable characters, a good story line, a great setting, and the sense of more Campbell Hale adventures to come.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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