A lot of romance heroines are introduced when they are at a low point in their lives. The reader then gets to follow them as they bounce back from that point. China Brown, the heroine of Sharon Sala’s latest, is so downtrodden that she’s never able to recover as a character. And the book suffers for this fact. Add to that suspense that isn’t very suspenseful and a romance that is largely unbelievable, and you get a book that’s quite a disappointment.
Butterfly opens with a prologue in which six-year-old China is hiding under the porch hoping that her abusive stepfather will forget she exists. She doesn’t get that lucky and when he finds her his abuse almost kills her. Flash forward. China is being kicked out of her apartment in Dallas because her boyfriend has taken off with the rent money. Not only is she homeless, but she’s six months pregnant by said boyfriend. As though that’s not sufficiently down and out, China is witness to a brutal murder and is shot in the stomach. She loses her baby and winds up in a coma.
Enter our hero, Ben English, who is the police detective assigned to investigate the murder. He falls for China at first sight. There’s nothing wrong with instant attraction, unless the subject of that attraction is a woman who is lying near death on the sidewalk. Here’s how Ben’s first sighting of her is described:
“Even with the snow melting on her cheeks and plastering her hair to her head, she was beautiful. She had a small straight nose above lips softly parted, and eyelashes so black and thick they looked like shadows. Her cheeks were pale and pinched from the cold, but the delicate cut of her features was impossible to miss, as was the small, perfect dimple in the middle of her chin.”
Call me crazy, but describing a critically injured woman’s lips as softly parted and going on to rhapsodize about the perfect dimple in her chin, as the paramedics are working on her, is a little strange.
Ben is drawn to China and decides he’s in love with her after a few short conversations. He keeps describing her as one of the strongest people he’s known, but she comes across as nothing but passive. Yes, she’s had to survive a rough childhood, lousy relationships and the death of her child, but she doesn’t do anything about any of it. Her being strong involves letting Ben take care of her, letting Ben’s mother take care of her, and, oh yeah, on page 368 she goes to watch her attacker being arrested. None of these things allows her to move out of victim mode.
The romance is not the only forced element in this novel. The mystery is supposed to be about who shot a wannabe paparazzi photographer, but it lacks energy. The book is chopped up into short sections that move us from character to character. These people are rarely in the same scenes together and they only briefly interact with Ben as the investigator. Two or three pages with a Texas Senator, two or three pages with his wild mother, two or three pages with a television news reporter, you get the picture. None of these characters is sufficiently developed to grab the reader’s interest so the suspense falls flat.
Butterfly is just trying to do too many things at once, and not really succeeding at any of them. The suspense could have been greater if there was ever any real indication that China was still in danger. The mystery would have flowed more smoothly if it wasn’t chopped up into little sections between brief, mostly uninteresting interactions between Ben and China. The romance is unbelievable because it happens too quickly and lacks depth.
Having said all that, I had to ask myself why this book wasn’t a complete failure. It comes down to the writing. Sharon Sala is not a poor writer. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the prose. The descriptions of character and place worked to draw the broad story elements. They just don’t work for the finer points. This book needed more character development and a deeper mystery. But, because of the writing, other readers may find more enjoyment in this book then I did.