The Last Bride In Ballymuir
by Dorien Kelly, contemporary (2003)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-6458-3


Dorien Kelly proves that writing series romances may not cause your literary abilities to atrophy in her full-length debut The Last Bride In Ballymuir. This book is a nicely written story with an emphasis on the emotions in the relationship. It is only when the author attempts to pad her story with what seems like a thousand external conflicts that this book starts to wobble on its foundation.

Michael Kilbride has just gotten out of prison. He was guilty of being a dupe: he unknowingly aided some very unfriendly guys to carry explosives in his car, explosives that are later used to bomb up places and killed quite a number of people in the process. Fourteen years in prison means plenty of sleepless nights dwelling on guilt, among other more pragmatic things like figuring out a way to pick up the soap in the shower without bending over. He has come to stay with his rather airy-fairy sort of sister Vi. The last thing he should do is to be attracted to Kylie O'Shea, dubbed the closest person Ballymuir even has to being a saint. She teaches kiddies and Ballymuir is a very conservative town. Michael means trouble to Kylie.

What I really like about this book is that while the romance is conducted under the microscope of Ballymuir, the author doesn't try to pretend that this is a good thing. She is unapologetic about Kylie and Michael standing up for their right to love each other, damn what other people say, and I really love that. Michael is pleasant, Kylie is a little on the too-good side but she never grates on the nerves (she's capable of feeling emotions like you and me and she is never a victim). Both characters also lack sexual sophistication, but instead of coming off like sad neurotic lobotomized bunnies, Mike and Kylie are pretty likeable characters.

The trouble is, Dorien Kelly tries to pile on the external conflicts like Patricia Rice on a particularly energetic day. Kylie's father is in prison and he's getting out. Michael's old enemy is getting back at him, not in a good way. The townspeople treat Michael with various degrees of distrust and even hostility. Kylie's jealous aspiring boyfriend is bent on making life hell for Michael. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many conflicts piling up that the author's attempt to wrap everything up by the last page comes off as even more contrived than ever. At least a more gritty film that shares a similar theme - that yummy Daniel Day-Lewis and Emily Watson movie The Boxer - knows how to use open-endedness to provide a satisfying resolution to a star-crossed love story. Dorien Kelly tries to tackle ten thousand subplots with her tiny Carebear shovel and ends up smelling not at all like roses.

Underlying too many subplots, all dealt with unsatisfactorily, is a very enjoyable romance between two likeable and sympathetic characters who really feel right for each other. Now here's to hoping that the author manages to stay sane in-between writing non-stop about frigid virgins and action heroes for you-know-who to come up with a more focused and tighter-written follow-up.

Rating: 82


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