Book Review: Hearts in Hiding by Betsy Brannon Green
Reviewed by Jennie L Hansen
Once in awhile a new writer comes along with a voice so refreshing it’s easy to forget to look for the usual “first timer” mistakes. Betsy Brannon Green is that kind of writer. Other writers mix romance, mystery, and even humor and do it well, but Sister Green adds a new twist. She’s a Southern writer, writing true Southern “regional” fiction with LDS characters and LDS dilemmas. Her fiction is set in the small town of Haggerty, Georgia-population 6,000-a fictional town much like the small southern town where Sister Green, and her father before her, spent much of their youth.
There’s a tendency in fiction to stereotype small town Southerners as toothpick chewing, illiterate hillbillies, but Sister Green introduces readers to an intelligent, charming set of characters who show their concern for one another in their own uniquely Southern style. Her main character, Kate Singleton, is a young, tired, pregnant widow working in a no-future position for a Chicago law firm. By the fourth paragraph we also know she’s being followed, and she’s not particularly surprised by this turn of events. Shortly after, we learn she’s smart enough to avoid unnecessary risks, that it’s FBI agents who are following her, and that her deceased husband was an agent killed in the line of duty. The story’s pace is fast at this point as she discovers her life has been threatened, and that she’s about to become a different person with a different life. This new life will include a new husband, undercover agent Mark, a man she’d never even seen until an hour before they married.
With that different life comes a slower pace, both in her lifestyle and in the community where she and her new husband assume their new life and identities. Technically, the pace of the story slows too, but at that point I was having such a good time meeting Kate and Mark’s neighbors, I didn’t care. There’s Miss Eugenia, right next door, who takes over managing the renovation of the old house they’ve moved into, arranging Kate’s social life and keeping Kate abreast of the strict social mores of a Haggerty household. Miss Polly, next door on the other side, knows everything there is to know about Southern cooking, the neighbors and all those people living out on Highway 11. From Miss Eugenia and Miss Polly we learn that certain indiscretions can be overlooked, but late thank you notes are the true unforgivable sin and that it’s not Hallmark cards, but casseroles that are the correct medium for expressing love and concern at each of life’s mileposts.
Miss Polly shrugged elegantly. “All I know is that I never received a thank-you note from them for the
china dinner plate I gave them as a wedding gift.”
“How long has it been since the wedding?” someone asked.
“Six or seven months, I think.” Miss Polly answered, placing her cards face up on the table.
There was a universal gasp. “Oh my,” the lady on the other side of Miss Eugenia spoke for everyone.
Kate looked at her neighbor in confusion. “Failing to write thank-you notes is an unforgivable sin in the South,” Miss Eugenia explained.
“Only thing worse is committing adultery with a close family member,” someone else contributed.
“And that’s only if you get caught!” a tiny woman wearing a black net hat added from across the room.
“Thank-you notes are what separate us from the barbarians,” Miss Polly said.
“She means the Yankees,” Miss Eugenia whispered.
Ellis Harper is another unforgettable Haggerty neighbor. He can build or repair anything if given enough time and a regular meal every day. Hepsibah, who prefers to be called Happy, can wheel and deal with the best decorators, and she’s no slouch when it comes to using Kate’s newly acquired credit cards.
As part of their cover, Mark is the new police chief, a supposedly simple position in a small, quiet town, but he finds the retired chief wants his job back any way he can get it, and one of his two patrolmen suffers from a severe bout of absenteeism. Kate cures his problems with a few well-placed hints to a few of her delightfully, snoopy elderly neighbors.
“He’s been to the doctor twice in the last week, and he’s had to miss work, so it must be bad.”
Everyone was staring at her, waiting. “He said it was personal, something he couldn’t discuss in front of ladies . . .”
All the old women leaned forward with synchronized baited breath.
“So I can only assume that it’s . . .”
“A male problem,” Miss George Ann spoke for everyone. Kate shrugged eloquently and Annabelle’s eyebrows shot up.Mormons in Haggerty
In a town quite evenly divided between Baptists and Methodists, Mormons are an oddity. Miss Eugenia with sincere loyalty defends Kate’s religion to her gossipy neighbors, who have discovered that Mark wears unusual underwear.
“There is nothing wrong with the Chief’s blood. He’s just a Mormon, and they do all kinds of odd things like wear long johns in the summer and save buckets of food even though the Y2K crisis is over.”
Once Kate’s baby is born the story takes off at a rocket pace. There’s murder, kidnapping, and enough intrigue to keep the reader guessing right to the end. The romance portion of the story is kept low key, but it does raise some interesting questions about how to manage a secret wedding and still make it a temple marriage.
Yes, the book has some flaws: like the over use of ‘ly’ adverbs and ‘very’ gets a little distracting, the slower pace after Kate and Mark first arrive in Haggerty goes on a bit too long, and the killing of Kate’s double is never adequately explained, since the villain knows all along that the female agent isn’t really Kate, but those points are easily overlooked because of the charm and intrigue that Sister Green handles so well.
“Hearts in Hiding” is a fun book to read. Meeting Sister Green’s characters alone make the book worth reading, but unraveling the mystery surrounding Kate’s first husband and the dangerous syndicate he was investigating provides a well-developed plot as a bonus. It’s one of those books that is hard to put down, so I wouldn’t recommend starting it if you don’t have time to finish in one or two sittings.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.