Insanity, Illinois

by Mark Sumner



198pp/$5.99/February 1998

News from the Edge:  Insanity, Illinois
Cover by Jeff Walker

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Mark Sumner's second installment in his "News from the Edge" series, Insanity, Illinois, continues the adventures of tabloid reporter Savvy Skye. Unlike The Monster from Minnesota, which had a distinctly supernatural feel to it, Insanity, Illinois is more rooted in the mundane world and there is less of a "Scooby-Doo" feel to this novel.

When several phone calls arrive at the Global Dispatch offices from the small Illinois town of Meridian, near the Dispatch offices in St. Louis, Savvy Skye is dispatched to determine the cause. Normally eager to be assigned field work, Skye balks at the assignment since it interferes with her weekend plans to attend a journalism conference with James Knowles, her mentor from the previous novel.

Naturally, Meridian is an isolated town, located on a small island in the Mississippi which can only be accessed via ferry. Skye arrives the day after the Meridian Apple Festival to discover a town populated by people who seem to be suffering from delusions and hallucinations. Insanity, Illinois tells of her attempts to discover the source of the insanity. Fortunately for Skye, the craziness wears off shortly after her arrival and she is able to enlist the help of the town's mayor and doctor.

As with The Monster from Minnesota, Sumner liberally sprinkles Insanity, Illinois with red herrings for Skye to stumble across. At the same time, this novel seems to be more straightforward than Skye's earlier adventures and the cause of the insanity, as well as the perpetrator, seemed more obvious. What is lacking until the end of the novel is a motive, although Sumner does eventually provide a motive which explains, at least in part, the activities in Meridian.

Sumner does not tie up all the loose ends quite as well. During her investigations, Skye comes across a major agro-business located on the north end of the island. Her visit to Agronax raises several questions which Sumner does not provide answers to. Similarly, Sumner does not provide any follow-up for some of the afflicted characters who he had focused on.

Aside from the mystery at Meridian, Sumner also delves a little more deeply into the relationship between Skye and Knowles. Although Knowles still needs to be convinced that Skye is not too young for him, despite having children older than she is, he seems to be weakening in the face of Skye's determination. It is obvious that this will continue to be a thread throughout any future novels, although there is little literary tension in their relationship so far.

This series, which seems to now be on hiatus, provides entertaining, if light, reading. With luck, Ace will decide to pick up more of Sumner's work in the series and he'll eventually be able to chronicle Skye's visits to the remaining forty-eight states and show her burgeoning relationship with Jimmy Knowles.

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