A usually reliable and best-selling author (The General's Daughter, 1992, etc.) comes a-cropper with this tale of star-crossed lovers who finally meet again after a quarter century and then must deal with her psychotic husband, the sheriff and de facto dictator of their Ohio hometown. Such a story requires that the individuals involved seem likely to have held onto their youthful romance into middle age. When one, Keith Landry, is an ex-intelligence operative with the National Security Council, a man competent and experienced enough to have the president of the United States request his return to government service in the White House, such emotional gridlock seems pretty far-fetched. And when the other, Annie Prentis Baxter, has married the town psychopath and remained an apparently willing victim of her own stupid choice for more than 20 years, one must wonder what exactly it is about this woman that has kept Landry captivated. Readers are left to hope that DeMille's reputation for accomplished storytelling and the ability to create memorable characters will save the day. No such luck. This is pure (and unbelievable) melodrama with a stock cast: farmers who are almost actively unsophisticated (Landry's elderly aunt is absolutely baffled by a bottle of red wine), a kindly and understanding old preacher, the town drunk who is a Vietnam veteran and one of the sheriff's prime victims, and so forth. (There is a disdain for Middle America that ranges from implicit to overt throughout these pages.) Even those who fall outside the Spencerville paradigm, Landry's former high school pal and his wife, are clichÃ‰s of another sort: unreconstructed '60s peaceniks: They turn out to have no real role to play in the story. Only Landry's ex-boss from Washington is even vaguely interesting (and his role is essentially that of deus ex machina). Some tension in the final pages, but too little, too late. Very disappointing.