I can sum up the theme of Bitter Harvest pretty easily: “Greed is bad and will not go unpunished.” It’s a good moral, but in this case, it’s not delivered with much subtlety or style.
Michelle Tyler is living a quiet and happy existence when the book begins. She has her own business and a loving husband. Then she gets a mysterious letter from maternal grandmother, Eleanor Tyler. Now, Michelle has never met her deceased mother’s upper crust family because of an estrangement that arose when her mother became pregnant by a man from a lower social class. The letter implores Michelle to visit for Thanksgiving. We’ve seen this story before – the innocent entering a world of eccentric and peculiar relatives. Michelle’s grandmother becomes quite attached to her and the other family members worry about the possibility of Michelle taking their share of the inheritance.
Michelle, who is newly pregnant to further complicate matters, is kidnapped mid-book. The abductors forge a note to Eleanor making it look like she decided to leave early, and make it appear to Michelle’s husband that she’s decided to stay on. It takes a few days for her loved ones to unravel the cover-up and they are forced to work together to find Michelle and bring her back safely.
This could have been a compelling story, but the suspense is bogged down by the meandering pace. We go through pages and pages where Michelle, her husband, her grandmother and several other characters do nothing but worry and reflect. There are also several occasions where characters discuss at length things which happened earlier in the book that the reader has already experienced first hand.
This is not necessarily bad, but it’s not especially intriguing either. The characters are not fleshed out very well; they might as well have “good” or “bad” tattooed on their foreheads. Not only are many of the plot devices not terribly inventive, I also didn’t believe that Michelle was in any real jeopardy. There are events staged to make the grandmother look crazy, like her beloved dog found dead on her bed and then disappearing, and sightings of her husband’s ghost. One expects Jessica Fletcher to appear in the last chapter to briskly wrap things up, so Magnum, PI can start on time.
Bitter Harvest has a lot in common with family reunions. You see the same people and hear a lot of stories that you’ve heard before. At memorable family reunions, you also get a few surprises, some emotional moments and potato salad. Bitter Harvest is missing these elements.