Cardwell Ranch Trespasser
B.J. Daniels’ romantic suspense novel Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch was a Harlequin promotion freebie, and that’s how I came to read and like it. Accordingly I was interested in reviewing Cardwell Ranch Trespasser, the third installment in the series. It’s lucky I was not invested too much in the first novel’s couple’s happiness, as the author lets them down big time in the third book.
Dana Cardwell Savage, happily married to Marshal Hud Savage for six years now and mother to four children, is excited to have discovered a cousin she never knew about on the internet. She invites her to a visit to Cardwell Ranch, and Dee Anna Justice accepts. Unbeknownst to Dana, it is not the real Dee Anna who received her invitation, but her former roommate, who sees it as a chance for a holiday in Montana, all expenses paid.
Dana drives to the airport with her best friend and business partner Hilde to collect “Dee”. While Dana is ecstatic to meet her cousin, Hilde feels from the start that there is something off about the stranger, and her misgivings are affirmed when Dee first claps eyes on Dana’s husband Hud and is instantly and visibly smitten. Dana takes Dee and Hilde on trips, and twice Dee causes Hilde to suffer an almost-accident that might have been fatal. The second time, Hilde hysterically tries to denounce Dee, but this only results in Dana defending Dee, and accusing Hilde of jealousy.
One person is prepared to listen to Hilde, however: Deputy Marshal Colt Dawson. Some weeks ago, he asked her on a date, but Hilde turned him down, because he usually serially dates much younger women, and she didn’t think he was serious. Now she is glad she has someone to turn to, and they agree that they will continue to watch Dee and try to protect Dana and her family. They don’t quite expect how far Dee will go.
Let me start by saying that a third of the way through the book, I hated it so much that it would have been a DNF if I had not received an ARC and felt honor-bound to finish it. During that third, the perspective is shared almost equally between Hilde and Dee. Dee is really hateful to read about. She’s an utter psychopath, with e-e-evil written right on her forehead. One, if I liked to read from the perspective of psychopaths, I would read a different genre. Two, even con artists can be done with subtlety, if the author is prepared to invest in some shades of grey. This might actually render the character interesting, but not here. Three, no-one realizes how evil Dee is but Hilde?
The author constantly tells us how wonderful an actress Dee is, and how accurately she can read and react to people around her. What the reader sees her doing is toning the others out while they’re talking, pretending to have a twisted ankle to get out of housework and playing with the children, and making sheep’s eyes at Hud. So very convincing as con artist. On top of that, besides being e-e-evil, Dee is wholly impulse-driven, and her early attacks on Hilde make little sense.
Dana and Hud come across as very, very gullible – make that thick as a brick (incidentally, their youngest son is called Brick, which is related late in the book. That made me smile). The author makes much of Dana’s longing for family after she’s been estranged from her siblings for many years (but has been reconciled with them for some time now). Then comes the old blood-is-thicker-than-water adage. Is this plausible? You contact some person on the internet, with all the warnings that abound about predators and liars out there, and instantly believe them over a friend of many years who is a proven honest and reliable business partner besides? In the year 2013? The case is even worse for Hud. He’s law enforcement, for goodness’ sake, and both ignores what’s in front of his own eyes as well as Hilde’s and Colt’s warnings, just because his wife is so happy about her cousin’s visit.
The scenes told from Hilde’s perspective are what made the book bearable, and, in the second half, mostly interesting. Hilde is an ordinary woman caught in a situation that nothing in her life has prepared her for, and in which conventional reactions don’t work. She reacts sometimes impulsively, at other moments she is capable of thinking on her feet and discovering both courage and ingenuity in herself. Yet she doesn’t turn into superwoman, and her deep frustration at her comparative helplessness make these scenes poignant.
Colt is a love. He’s the kind of guy you want to have at your back when matters get tricky, and yet he’s not superman either. He does what he can, at some risk to his career, and his reactions to Hilde’s revelations are entirely plausible throughout. The romance is sweet and quite straightforward, partly because the suspense plot gets center stage in this novel. I liked the uncomplicatedness of the romance and would have liked to see just a touch more of it.
Another element in the novel I liked was the ending. Although it’s happy and all, the author does not gloss over the fallout from what has happened, which is quite rare in romance.
I will give B.J. Daniels another try because I liked Hilde and Colt. But I can’t recommend Cardwell Ranch Trespasser.