11/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mystery, Southern Style in Southern Peril

Southern Peril is the latest novel in the "Jersey Barnes" mystery series by T. Lynn Ocean. Once again the locale is Wilmington, North Carolina and once again the focus is on retired criminal investigator Jersey Barnes. Jersey is a lot like Al Pacino's character in The Godfather series. Every time she thinks she is out of the business they pull her in again.

The person doing the pulling this time is a friend of hers who is a judge in South Carolina. The judge is concerned about her brother Morgan who is in Wilmington running the family restaurant called "Argo's." Both of their parents died recently and Morgan was forced to take over the family business. A reclusive sort of man, he is reluctant to let anyone help him with his problems which include a recent break in at his apartment. The judge thinks it might have been something other than a random break-in and she wants Jersey to investigate.

Jersey needs something to occupy her time as her boyfriend/partner is out of town. Ox and Jersey have just taken the next step in their relationship and she misses him terribly. Ox is co-owner with Jersey of "The Block," a bar/restaurant in Wilmington. Jersey has a good staff and the place just about runs itself but she still longs for Ox to hurry home.

As Jersey investigates the break-in there are indications Morgan may be in the middle of something of which he is unaware. Some people appear to think he has something or some information that belongs to them and they want it. If Morgan is in the way, well they will just get rid of him.

All of this is compelling but not overly interesting. Morgan does not come off as a fascinating character in any sense of the word, and the situations to which he leads Jersey are not frightening enough to be enjoyed. Plus, since Jersey and Ox are now a couple there is no sexual intrigue that can permeate the pages of this story. Ocean needs to get Ox back in town for the next story or risk losing some readers.

Ocean knows her characters and she knows her locale. Those are a big plus for the story, still without a compelling mystery none of that matters as much. Southern Peril lacks suspense and fear, two vital ingredients necessary for a page turner.

There are those who will enjoy Southern Peril as a first introduction to the skills of writer T. Lynn Ocean, but for those who have read and followed the series this will be one of the weaker offerings. It is still good but just not as good as the others.

Southern Peril is published by Minotaur Books. It contains 312 pages and sells for $24.95.

Jackie K. Cooper

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