Friday, August 19, 2011

The Ladies Next Door by Jacqui Singleton

Publisher:               Artemis Press

Jacqui Singleton leaves the world of fantasy, which was the basis for her previous books, to tell the story of Silver River, a small town in Virginia that is about to be turned upside down by the arrival of its first lesbians.

Diana Renoir and Cleo Damien left Boston to try to find a place where they can live a "normal" life. Silver River seems to be what they're looking for though at first they're treated as the town oddities. Southern civility gradually wins out however and by force of personality and general good will, Cleo and Diana begin to win over the citizens of the town. Everyone that is but their neighbor Jonathan Anzalone, the head of the bank. Anzalone is a powerful man who is threatened by a woman who has more power, Cleo Damien. He is determined to find out the source of her wealth and to steal Diana from her since he's sure that all Diana needs to fulfill her life is the "right man." 

As Jonathan is thwarted at every turn, Cleo becomes a bigger enemy as she takes on the job of mentor to his son Nathan. Nothing that Nathan does ever pleases his father, especially when he is always being beaten up by the town bullies. In Cleo, Nathan finds a friend who accepts him as he is, but teaches him valuable lessons about how to be his "own man" and a better man than his father. As Diana and Cleo begin to transform the lives of the citizens of Silver River, a killer is operating in their midst. Someone is murdering women and there is a growing fear that Diana may be the next target. The strands of the story come together as Cleo prepares to deal with Jonathan Anzalone and protect Diana at all costs. The outcome will depend on whether or not young Nathan can emerge as the man his father has never seen.

Singleton creates an interesting cast of characters in this book. Cleo Damien is somewhat reminiscent of the swashbuckling heroes in old movies. Although she claims not to like children, she recognizes a kindred spirit in Nathan and becomes more of a role model than his father could ever be. The Finimore sisters, Mavis and Avis, provide the lighter touch as a couple of older sisters who are the town's finest cooks and totally happy depending on each other, until Diana befriends them and opens up a new future for one of them that threatens to split the sisters forever. Ophelia Anzalone, Nathan's abused mother, is as sad as her namesake until she begins to see the possibility of a new life also. Jonathan Anzalone's slow decline into demented evil is one of the best portrayals in the book as he devolves from a man entranced by his own power to one whose world is spinning out of control as he loses touch with reality.

Singleton weaves these people and the different threads of
The Ladies Next Door into a book that is part mystery, part character study and all entertaining reading. In Silver River and its people, she has created a story that begs for a sequel so that the reader can follow up on what happens to this unique group of individuals.

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