"COLD AS ICE," by Stephanie Black, Covenant Communications, 296 pages, $16.99

Better than some, not as good as others, "Cold as Ice" is a challenging novel by LDS author Stephanie Black. It works in some areas and doesn't in others.

The story is actually pretty thin (the obvious suspect is probably being framed, but he doesn't trust the police or the system to vindicate him, so he makes it worse by running and hedging), yet somehow the reader is convinced that it's worth it to read nearly 300 pages to find out who the killer is.

You know it can't be the brother or his dedicated-to-a-fault sister, but who else would've committed the murder that looks like a slam dunk based on the physical evidence?

So it becomes more of a story about how the innocent man can be proved such than a murder mystery.

And, in the end, the real killer isn't the person one would expect at all and is so out of the blue that, in fact, it makes for a disappointing conclusion.

It's also a little hard to believe, given the time frame and a number of other factors.

Here is a story that has all of elements that should make it click — but somehow it misses.

The characters don't live.

They're kind of cardboard: the messed up little brother who keeps trying to change but fails; the steady but too trusting big sister who doesn't recognize her own beauty or strength; the shattered but loving parents who can't reach out one more time; the selfish, cruel former lover who easily commits murder; the hard-hearted landlord whom everyone would probably like to see gone.

So while it's nicely peppered with some twists and turns, and layered with a few life situations that suggest some depth is forthcoming, it doesn't fully engage the reader.

It isn't a page-turner or a book that can't be put down.

One might say it's not so much "cold as ice" as lukewarm.

e-mail: haddoc@desnews.com