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When divergent characters from two series meet, the story teeters.

When a mystery author creates a compelling character and then builds a series around him or her, it's easy to fall into a rut. To break out, the author creates another character and builds another series. Somewhere down the line, some wiseacre at the publishers' office suggests the characters meet.

And someone has decided that Edna Buchanan's tough Miami reporter Britt Montero must meet the members of the cold-case squad from another series of Buchanan books.

Bad idea, that. In Love Kills, Britt Montero is her usual tough-talking self, striding through the familiar territory of a Miami newspaper newsroom. Buchanan, a former Pulitzer-winning police reporter at the Miami Herald, knows that terrain; she added the cold-case novels a few years ago.

Problem is, the cold-case detectives have all the personality of corrugated paper. They are cartoons who represent all the recommended daily ethnic groups and speak in sitcom dialogue. Montero is closer to Buchanan's bone and much more a real character. The book is out of balance, like a film in which Meryl Streep plays opposite Felix the Cat.

Love Kills moves along because of its plots, two intertwined mysteries, and Montero's involvement with both. She mourns her dead lover, who had a long-running affair with Katherine Riley, head of the cold-case squad. Add that element and you understand the mess - emotional and otherwise - Montero is in.

She's on vacation when she finds the disposable camera of a newlywed couple. Back in Miami, she learns the young bride died at sea. The groom is found, makes for a heart-tugging story, then disappears. Only after he's gone does Montero realize he's a serial killer.

Meanwhile, the cold-case squad investigates another murder. The detectives serve a minor role in Love Kills and don't even provide much in the way of comic relief.

William McKeen teaches journalism at the University of Florida.

Love Kills

By Edna Buchanan

Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $25