Newcomer Wallace, a former attorney, is more concerned with romance than the law in her fast-paced but shakily plotted first novel. LuAnn Hagerdorn is a daddy's girl whose great act of rebellion was marrying Eddie, a liberal political cartoonist, and moving from hometown Tallagumsa, Alabama—where her family still lives—to Atlanta. The other Hagerdorns include LuAnn's sister, Jane (who's unable to conceive and covets LuAnn and Eddie's four-year-old daughter, Jessie), long-suffering mother Gladys, and LuAnn's father, the imperious Newell Hagerdorn, Tallagumsa's mayor, most prominent citizen, and now front runner for governor. When Newell makes LuAnn (home with a reluctant Eddie for a routine ceremony in Newell's honor) a gift of the Tallagumsa Steak House, a local institution, only LuAnn doesn't realize that it's a bribe to get her back to Alabama, where she can be an asset to Newell's campaign. Largely because LuAnn's pregnant with twins and money is tight, Eddie agrees to a year's trial period in small-town hell; but, even though he gets a great job at the university and a syndication contract to boot, he hadn't bargained on the entry of Ben Gainey into his—and his wife's—life. When LuAnn meets this big-shot reporter who's at work on a book about the New South, sparks fly; and when Ben and LuAnn discover a shocking truth about the never-solved 1963 murder of two black students on their way to integrate the state university, Eddie is left out of the picture. With Newell surfacing as the crime's prime suspect, lives are thrown into turmoil, and it'll take all of LuAnn's reserves of gumption to not only save her marriage but to come to terms both with her father's role in the 30-year-old mystery and her own family history. The trial itself, though, is anticlimactic (Newell has a skeleton in his closet, but he's no killer), leaving the reader with a case of Courtroom Lite. Convoluted and mildly engaging at best.
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