Caramel and Magnolias
I chose Caramel and Magnolias for review simply because I liked the title, usually a no-no because we’re expected to finish review books if we can. If you accidentally choose a stinker you’re stuck with it. This time I lucked out and found a quite nice book by a mostly new author that I probably would have missed, otherwise.
Insomniac Seattle detective Peter Ball opens his door one evening to find his schoolteacher brother on the doorstep with a distraught teenage girl in tow. They beg Peter for help locating the girl’s sister, who has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Despite himself, Peter finds the story they tell compelling and he agrees to look into the matter. This involves travel to his old hometown, a place of personal tragedy, to look for information, and checking in with the chief of police there, Peter’s father, whom Peter and his brother despise. The one clue found points to Cleo Parrish, another teacher at a Seattle Montessori school.
Peter surveils Cleo before approaching her to ask about the school program with her name on it found at the crime scene. When he is convinced of her innocence he introduces himself and explains the situation. Cleo is at first confused, but new information quickly comes to light and Cleo finds herself involved in the mystery in inadvertant and very personal ways. What follows is a crime thriller, mystery, and romance that has you on the edge of your seat at times, and which you’ll read straight through to find out what happens.
I seesawed with my opinion of Ms. Thompson’s writing. One one hand she has a neat turn of phrase and technical skill that at times had me reading passages aloud to my companion. On the other hand there is a very unfortunate tendency toward verbosity, especially when the hero and heroine are discussing their relationship. Which Peter and Cleo did – ad nauseum. No emotion or idea is too small or too obvious for them to hash out, and very little is internalized, in comparison to their many conversations about how they feel or should feel, etc. But then the beautifully rendered flashbacks have to be mentioned. Peter and Cleo both have a good deal of tragedy in their pasts, and (thankfully) instead of the characters jawing on about them, scenes are related in vivid real time which made them quite poignant.
There is a secondary romance that figured largely in the plot and was, strangely, just the opposite of Peter and Cleo’s. These two characters internalized everything. What came out of their mouths was rarely what they were really thinking. Perhaps the author wanted to illustrate the juxtaposition between the two styles of relating, but I found the secondary characters almost more appealing than the main ones. Other secondary characters were clearly drawn. You can’t help but hate Peter’s man-slut of a father, and feel sorrow for Peter’s suicidal brother.
The mystery is a good one. I don’t know if the story was drawn from the news, but if it wasn’t, kudos to the author for inventing such a plausible and scary situation. Even if it was, Ms. Thompson did a great job in the telling. I figured out what was going on with the girls pretty quickly, but the villain was not who I thought, and there were a couple of nasty surprises along the way.
One factor that kept the book from getting a higher score was something I consider a rookie mistake. The romances were progressing well, situations had been worked out, and the mystery was solved, so what was the point of the extra bit of angst at the end? All it did was add a few unnecessary and somewhat frustrating pages to the book. The good overshadows the bad, all in all, and I can definitely recommend with few reservations. Since this is only the author’s second book I’m looking forward to finding out where her writing takes us in the future