First Love, Second Chance
Michael First was devastated when his wife Clare was killed in a freak car accident. Struggling to raise his four children alone and wrangling with the bank that owns a majority share of his ranch, Michael is stunned when he is arrested for Clare’s murder. It seems that the brake lines to Michael’s car were cut, which led to the fatal accident. Michael switched cars with Clare the day she died, and everyone knows that Michael and Clare had been fighting lately. The state seems to have an open-and-shut case. Michael thinks that, since it was his car that suffered the sabotage, he must have been the intended victim.
Michael hires a criminal attorney who recently moved to town, and is startled when he realizes he knows her. Lara Stovall and Michael were sweethearts in high school; he broke up with her when he fell in love with Clare. What was a teenage fling to Michael was to Lara an affair to remember; she adored Michael and never really got over it when he broke her heart. Their attorney-client relationship is strained at first, as Lara actually seems to doubt Michael’s innocence. But what Lara really wants to do is protect her own emotional well-being.
The plot follows two courses: one is the story of Michael’s trial and the search for the real killer; the other is the progress of Michael and Lara’s relationship. The former worked for me, while the latter was problematic.
The mystery is quite enjoyable. I loved the few courtroom scenes, as well as one sharp legal exchange in the judge’s chambers. A trial makes for great drama, and Casper does a terrific job of portraying Lara as a smart, competent attorney who never misses a trick. As far as I can tell (and I should make it clear that my legal training comes entirely from Law & Order reruns), the author knows the law pretty well and does a good job of bringing the trial to life. Also, I didn’t guess the bad guy at all, even though the author did supply clues.
Unfortunately, when Lara and Michael were not in the courtroom they both seemed wooden and lifeless. They never came to life for me as people, and I never felt emotionally involved in the success of their love story. The non-legal dialogue seemed stilted. Perhaps part of the problem was that their relationship never felt natural or right to me.
When the book opens, Michael’s wife has been dead for just a few months. It definitely felt too soon for Michael to be thinking about another woman. The story takes place over a full year, giving Michael time to heal and time to turn to Lara. But the author doesn’t do a good job emphasizing how much time has passed; for me, Michael’s love for Lara still seemed to come uncomfortably soon after Clare’s death. It felt like a rebound relationship: he was lonely and felt grateful to Lara for saving him from prison. I believed that under those circumstances they would have an affair, but not that Michael would truly fall in love with her. I closed the book with that “this couple isn’t going to last” feeling.
First Love, Second Chance works much better as a mystery and courtroom drama than it does as a romance novel. If you like legal thrillers with a little romance thrown in, you might enjoy it. But if you’re looking for a really heart-stopping love story, you’ll do better to turn elsewhere.