The Night the Lights Went Out, by Karen White
This was a fun and surprising book. It starts out with newly-divorced Merilee Dunlop renting a house from a 95-year-old woman named Sugar Prescott. Sugar, in this small town near Atlanta, Georgia, comes from a family that once owned most of the land in the area. The house is on her property and was built near the family home as a place for her and her husband.
Merilee must navigate the McMansion social life of the small community and also try to develop a relationship with her neighbor/landlady who has a reputation in the town of being crusty. As that relationship develops over baking lessons and glasses of sweet tea Sugar tells stories about her background told in flashbacks. The narrative is also divided by a new anonymous community blogger who gives lessons and insights into southern life as well as reflections on sometimes malicious local gossip.
So far, I’m thinking, it’s okay. It seems like this life was pretty much covered as completely as one could in Steel Magnolias, and many of the characters seem similar. And there’s no denying that the South does not operate in the same way as the rest of the country. A friend of mine followed her lawyer husband to Atlanta. She was young and had spent most of her life working and going to school in southwest Idaho. She suddenly found herself surrounded by women who had never worked a day in their lives and kept their days full with clubs, card parties, and school activities under a strict and sometimes indecipherable social order. It drove her nuts and she hurried home as fast as she could. So, yawn, southern women.
But then the book starts to leave hints of something odd afoot as Merilee tries to keep up with the Beauregards, so to speak. With a sudden twist a person ends up dead and it’s clear that Merilee has been set up for the murder. The who and why become part of an interesting mystery-thriller that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Further, it develops that Sugar has had some sinister events in her past that suddenly come to light.
It’s a fun spin on what could have been a pretty mundane book. I can’t sray that the hints don’t make it clear who the evil-doer is, but the motivations and the action to bring it all to a close make it interesting and tense. So this is a cut above the expected genre and, if you take it on and find yourself getting impatient, I’d encourage giving it more time than usual to blossom for you.