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 Mystery Review    

Southern Nights: A Mystery and Suspense Collection
by Southern Writers
By Marti Phillips, Barbara Deming, Debbora Wiles, Donna Diamond, Jacqyln Mage
Southern Star Publishing, 2001
Trade paper, $14.95 (224 pages)
ISBN 1-58444-996-9

Gathering a group of southern writers for a mystery anthology is a smart move guaranteed to find an audience.  Southern Nights is an uneven collection of six stories with a variety of southern settings ranging from New Orleans to southern Kentucky.  The settings, in most cases, are the only thing 'southern' about this collection.  There is a lack of southern flavor readers have come to expect from southern writers.  Nonetheless, some of the stories are extremely clever.

The collection opens with the short-short "Gumbo Undercover" by Barbara Deming.  Despite it's short length and some awkwardly written passages, this wicked little tale delivers a one-two punch about infidelity and revenge. 

"Watercolor Dreams" by Debbora Wiles isn't much longer than the first story, and is more fantasy than mystery.  An aging fisherman spies a beautiful young artist on the beach and yearns to be with her.  What happens when they meet changes him forever.

Donna Diamond's unusual "The Ringmaster's Witness" takes us to the circus.  A beautiful trapeze artist is being victimized by her guardian whose motivation is more sinister than others realize.  There's a lot going on in this short story, including the unlikely romance between the circus performer and a handsome grocer who literally runs into her.

"The Flame of New Orleans" is the collaborative effort of Jacqlyn Mage (who writes another story in the collection under the name Jacqueline Gibson) and Ann Phillips.  In keeping with the wide range of settings, this story is a historical romance set in pre-Civil War New Orleans.  The mystery revolves around a murder and a precious ruby necklace known as 'The Flame of New Orleans.'

Jacqueline Gibson's "The Keys" is a romantic suspense set in the Florida Keys.  A woman on vacation is torn between the man she's involved with and a mysterious stranger.  Despite an intriguing premise, the plot is a bit convoluted and the ending lacks the kind of resolution readers expect from a romance.

"Wildfire!" by Marti Phillips rounds out this collection.  This romantic suspense is the longest story in the collection and delivers a cast of characters caught up in a murder investigation.  The story is well-plotted and the first person narrative lends to the natural flow of dialogue.

The six stories that make up Southern Nights cover the full spectrum of the mystery/suspense genre.  It is a thoughtfully compiled collection, but all of the stories would have benefited from judicious editing.  The awkward flow in some stories, compounded with the typographical and page layout errors detracts from the overall appeal of this diamond in the rough anthology. 


Kristina Wright
Southern Scribe Reviews

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