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On Level Ground
by Danny and Wanda Pelfrey
Crosslink Publishing, 2017
⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆
The verdict: A clean, inspirational cozy that caters to its niche.
Local historians just like their main character, the writing duo of Danny and Wanda Pelfrey bring love and charm to their hometown setting. While some parts of it might have been a little too quaint for my taste, On Level Ground presents a heartfelt cozy mystery that’s safe for all ages. This was my first experience with Davis Morgan, but I had no problem understanding the story without reading the previous ones in the series. Weaving moments of prayer, scripture, and clean adventure, the Pelfreys create an inspirational tale about second chances and finding solid footing amid the constant throes of life.
Small-town Georgia preacher and bookstore owner Davis Morgan makes a routine pastoral visit to the elderly Bessie Taylor. Upon arrival, however, he discovers a grisly crime scene. With the so-called Adairsville Creeper making headlines, the assault on Ms. Taylor could be anything from a prank gone wrong to something far more sinister. Meanwhile, Davis’s daughter, Amy, adjusts to married life and her father’s new spouse; policeman Charley considers his future career path while facing conflict as executor of a family estate; a new basketball coach has a fierce and mysterious obsession with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind; and hardworking EMT Tonya is sidelined by injury. Elsewhere, an increased interest in famed local author Corra Harris might have some connection to the Creeper’s trespassing. In the small town of Adairsville, nobody’s business is private, and recurrent sightings of the Creeper soon escalate into a criminal ploy with potentially deadly consequences.
“You’re just a little gullible, Deidre,” Charley retorted. “In my work, you soon learn there are all kinds out there. It’s sad, but I constantly encounter people that wouldn’t think twice about pounding a nice old lady over the head for a twenty-dollar bill. Our world is full of mean and desperate people.”
I wish he were wrong, but that’s not the case, Davis thought. He’s right, as much as I hate to admit it. Satan is alive and well in this world and that sometimes makes it a scary place to live.
At several points in the novel, the characters seem too aware of their audience, making the dialogue a bit stilted and uptight when I wanted more raw and intimate. Much of the novel feels like a lesson with a story attached rather than the other way around. When the Adairsville Creeper comes on the scene, his only distinguishing feature is a black hoodie—perhaps a missed opportunity to unpack some current events around police profiling. As for Davis, he faces pressure on all sides in a humanizing way, although the reader rarely sees chinks in his armor. Thankfully, the Pelfreys unveil more of his natural limitations as the story progresses. In fact, the titular character does very little sleuthing on his own, often being the last to know information or having clues fall straight into his lap. The story’s more about Charley than Davis, and the supporting cast sees the most character development while the mystery itself often feels secondary. The final chapters tie the bow pretty neatly, but the door’s still open for more in the series. All in all, On Level Ground presents clean, inspirational fiction, recommend for Christian readers looking for an upbeat, faith-affirming read.
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