BookBrowse Reviews Best Laid Plans by Gwen Florio

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Best Laid Plans

A Nora Best Mystery #1

by Gwen Florio

Best Laid Plans by Gwen Florio X
Best Laid Plans by Gwen Florio
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  • Published:
    Feb 2021, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Ian Muehlenhaus
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In this series launch, protagonist Nora Best experiences a midlife crisis in the mountains and finds herself entangled in a murder mystery.

When starting a series, first impressions are key. Introducing a sympathetic or relatable protagonist – preferably flawed in some way – is crucial so the first book provides traction for character development in future installments. In Best Laid Plans, Gwen Florio's heroine Nora Best has plenty of room for growth. She suffers from subtle character flaws, including an obsession with food, coffee snobbery and judging people based on their sex appeal. Nora's personality didn't make me particularly sympathetic to her plight. Nonetheless, she comes off as remarkably genuine – an urbane 50-year-old woman stuck in the woods.

Nora is an upper-class author from Denver who is married to an attractive lawyer. The fun starts with the couple having sold everything to take a yearlong tour of the United States with a souped-up pickup and a large, bourgeois, customized camper trailer. Their goal is to meander across the country in luxury while Nora writes about exploring the U.S. with her dreamy husband and having lots of sex. She's been given advance money for her as-of-yet unwritten adventure because her editor sees potential after the moderate success of her first book, also about her sex life with her husband.

Fortunately for the reader, this farce of a romance novel never happens.

The night before they are to leave, Nora catches her husband having sex with his best friend's wife. (To add insult to injury, Nora has already derided the woman for letting herself go with age, commenting on fat hanging from under her arms — again, she is not the most sympathetic of heroines.) Nora storms off and hops into the new truck attached to the massive camper trailer, and even though two pages earlier she'd been slamming tequila shots and has never driven a truck with a 20-plus foot attachment, she somehow manages to leave her husband in the dust for Wyoming.

From here, several expected subplots are foreshadowed. Nora overhears news on the radio about a serial killer targeting sex workers in the area. Naturally, she decides to stop at a campsite in the mountains 30 minutes from where the killer last struck. There she meets the attractive man who runs the site with his equally attractive wife.

Alas, that night something very bad happens. We are thrust into a mystery. The attractive man has disappeared! They find a little blood but no body. And as though serial killers and missing hotties aren't enough, we discover that grizzlies are known to roam the area. Could it have been a bear attack?!

Several more cliché male characters are subsequently introduced, including a small-town, not-too-bright sheriff, and a good-looking, super-dependable outdoorsy bear lover named Caleb. Guess which one Nora feels closer to?

Overall, Best Laid Plans is a bit of a tease. It seduces with a quick-moving plot, a few charming characters, and just enough tension to not be a bore. Like all teases, though, it also leaves you hanging for more. The author continually brings up sexual tension; yet there is barely any sex. The book throws new distractions and "what ifs" into the mystery, yet in the end, the villains are probably who you suspect.

That said, Florio is a great writer. Her descriptions of nature and food were vivid and engaging, often nice distractions from the less than suspenseful plot. At times I felt like I was reading a world-class food blog, as Nora waxes on about delicious chicken-fried steak and berry pies from hole-in-the-wall establishments.

If you're looking for some fun, easy reading by a gifted writer, I definitely recommend this one. If you prefer suspenseful thrillers or complex plotlines, you may want to look elsewhere.

Reviewed by Ian Muehlenhaus

This review is from the Best Laid Plans. It first ran in the February 17, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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