by Jill Gregory, contemporary (2003)
Dell, $6.50, ISBN 0-440-23732-7
Katy Templeton left the small Wyoming town of Thunder Creek because she couldn't stand the memories of her brother Matt that died fourteen years ago. Today, her mother want to visit France but her father is using pneumonia-stricken Grandma as an excuse to keep wallowing in memories of Matt. Katy decides to return to Thunder Creek to take care of Grandma and to run the family-owned diner in her parents' absence. This is actually an excuse for her to escape her broken marriage that followed her miscarriage. But in Thunder Creek, she meets Jackson Brant again. Jackson was Matt's best friend, and Matt died while replacing Jackson in painting a house as Jackson had better things to do, like testing out the backseat of his car with a new girlfriend. Katy blamed Jackson for Matt's death, Jackson blamed himself but may have gotten over it, and then Katy conveniently finds a sketch of a dead girl in Matt's room and this story then turns into a romantic mystery story.
Hah, did the whole prodigal daughter returns plot thing fool you like it did me? I was expecting a no-nonsense story of smalltown healing, so the story's change of focus from relationship to dead woman catches me by surprise. Even when I am expecting a drama, I already have some problems with Katy's unreasonable blaming Jackson for Matt's death. I do like how Ms Gregory has Katy taking steps to actively moving on with life instead of remaining hopelessly stuck in the past, so I am disappointed when this story soon drops Katy's attempt at healing for Katy's amateur investigation techniques. The mystery isn't even decent - the villains turn out to be the stand-out bad guys that behave so obviously like scums from the start, so Thunder Creek isn't a mystery as much as it is pointing out the obvious.
Thunder Creek ends up like a hybrid of an underbaked smalltown mystery and an underwritten smalltown women's fiction. In this case, two kinds of half-baked do not make one complete story. The plot and the characters all end up wanting in some way or the other. The sole saving grace of this story is Ms Gregory's ability to keep me reading with her descriptive and vivid writing style that makes her story come alive. I can't help thinking that should she had taken some time to develop her characters and tighten the focus of her story, Jill Gregory would have presented a much better book as her first contemporary romance than Thunder Creek.
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