Pitch Black

Susan Crandall
2008, Romantic Suspense
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, 386 pages, Amazon ASIN 044617856X

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Subtle

I love a good romantic suspense novel, and I love novels set in small towns. Add some excellent characters, and a plot that keeps you guessing and you have Pitch Black, among the best romantic suspense novels I’ve read this year.

Madison Wade is a journalist who has lived and worked for some time in Philadelphia. On one of her assignments, she met Ethan – a street kid who stole her heart. Madison adopted Ethan (who calls her M) and, in order to give them both a fresh start, moved to Buckeye, Tennessee.

Buckeye is mostly a pleasant place, though it takes some time for Ethan and Madison to fit in. He is the new kid in school and she has to get used to the slower pace of life. However, they are beginning to settle in and even make some friends. Ethan has befriended Jordan Gray, an outsider in school and Madison has had a breakfast date with sheriff Gabe Wyatt, who is quite taken with her.

When Jordan’s stepfather, Steve McPherson, asks Ethan to come with him and a group of other boys on a hike and camp out, Madison is happy to let him go – Steve is a responsible man and this looks like a way for Gabe to begin to make more friends. But the hike goes dreadfully wrong. The boys stagger out of the woods when they find Steve dead – seemingly by accident - and Jordan, the only one who was near when it happened, is catatonic with fear. An autopsy shows that Steve’s death was no accident and then another boy who was on the hike turns up dead with a Philadelphia ball cap by his body.

Pitch Black is more suspenseful than romantic. Most of the plot deals with trying to unravel the mystery of Steve McPherson’s murder and why Jordan is so psychologically disturbed. Gabe’s investigation leads him to suspect Ethan for a short time, which causes an estrangement between him and Madison. I’ve read many a romance where this happens and sometimes it feels forced, but not here. Both Gabe and Madison act very realistically and finally realize that they are both on the track of the killer when a story she is working on turns out to provide the final piece of the puzzle.

I liked the characters very much, especially Gabe, a very sweet beta hero. A laid back man who became sheriff because he wanted to serve the community, he worries about the people he serves, he is kind and welcoming to newcomers, and the motto “to protect and serve” sums him up nicely. As much a I enjoyed Gabe, I also appreciated how Susan Crandall neither romanticized nor dismissed small town life. The people in Buckeye are a mixture of good and not so good. The town turns out to have its share of big city problems, but it is presented as mostly a nice place to live – not quite like Mayberry, but almost there.

Susan Crandall has written six other books. They are all very pleasant reads for people who enjoy books set in small towns. I think she is a buried treasure and an author to try if you enjoy books with likable characters and interesting stories.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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