Cindy Chow - January Magazine

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What could be worse than playing in a golf tournament while partnered with your estranged father as well as your possibly soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend? Well, how about playing while also trying to serve as maid of honor to one of your competitors? That's the caliber of torture facing Cassie Burdette in Fairway to Heaven (Berkley Prime Crime), Roberta Isleib's fourth Golf Lover's Mystery.

Fairway finds Cassie, never one of the most stable of personalities, back in her therapist's office for a "tune-up" and lamenting the rigors imposed upon her by the upcoming wedding of her friend Jeanine Peters. Little does Cassie know, however, that attending numerous showers and wearing ridiculous hats will be the very least of her problems. As this golf pro-cum-sleuth tries to delicately soothe the egos of her father and boyfriend, and avoid her stepmother's jealous glares, she is surprised by a corpse showing up at a pre-wedding party. Suspicion for this homicide points directly at Jeanine's father. Knowing of Cassie's experience at ferreting out the truth behind crimes, the bride begs her to help clear up this killing the nuptials begin. It's a tough call, since Cassie's caddie has been trying to get her to concentrate exclusively on playing in the upcoming tournament at Pinehurst, North Carolina. But hey, what are friends for, if not to solve mysteries? When Jeanine's father disappears, though, the pressure really falls on Cassie, since her responsibility as maid of honor has her attempting to hide the situation from the police, investigate the relatives of both families, and play her best in a tournament without showing up her male partners.

What sets Fairway to Heaven apart from other "gimmicky" mysteries is its plot line focusing on the complicated relationships between fathers and daughters. Cassie is the golfer her father wishes he could be himself, and she continues to seek his approval, despite her birth mother's hatred of their shared sport and her stepmother's resentment toward the "old" Burdette family. Because of Cassie's tenuous bond with her father, she has never been able to commit fully to another man, fearing that she'll once again be abandoned. Jeanine has issues with her own father, and the secrets that are kept to protect her set the stage here for disaster. Author Isleib shows a deft touch with this theme, avoiding emotional hokeyness.

When composing amateur-sleuth tales, authors must worry about succumbing to the "Jessica Fletcher Syndrome": compelling everyone in a small community to be either a victim or a suspect. In her latest novel (after Putt to Death, 2004), Isleib maneuvers around that pitfall by thrusting events upon Cassie, often off-scene and entirely against her will, rather than having her venture out to probe -- and doubt -- the motivations of everyone with whom she comes in contact. The writing here is above par, with wit and sarcasm that makes even Cassie's neurosis more humorous than annoying. Isleib, continuing a series that teed off with Agatha and Anthony award nominations (for Six Strokes Under, 2002), showcases her skill with a putter as well as a pen. -- C.C.

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