In some ways, Her Galahad is like no book I’ve read before. I’ve only read a handful of books set in Australia, and none of them featured a hero of aboriginal descent as this one does. That’s why the book caught my eye in the first place. On the other hand, it features time-worn devices I’ve seen again and again, like the hero and heroine who are both wounded and healing – and both have a tendency to snap at each other like rabid dogs. Then there are the overly dramatic love scenes thrown in with all the angst. I quickly started to think of the book as “General Hospital in the Outback,” which for me is not a compliment. And while I wouldn’t say that the book is poorly written, it definitely didn’t work for me. Melissa James does not make a sterling debut here.
Tessa has been on the run from an abusive, controlling husband for a few years. She goes from town to town, teaching school until she gets that familiar “I’m being watched” feeling and heads off to the next remote civilization. This time she happens to be in Lynch Hill, a small town in New South Wales, and she doesn’t just see her controlling husband – she sees her first husband David, whom she thought was dead.
When she first sees David, Tessa thinks that he might be in league with the controlling jerk-ex, Cameron. After all, David never came for her after their secret marriage, and she’s seen his death certificate. Since Cameron is in town, she thinks they may be working together. When she arrives home to find that Cameron has talked to her landlady, she packs her things and prepares to head out of town. On the way out the door she bumps into David, whose car has just been bombed by Cameron. He convinces her of his innocence and they take off together with Cameron in pursuit.
David is now calling himself Jirrah, because he’s been declared dead twice, and officially “David” doesn’t exist. I never could figure out why declaring him dead once wasn’t enough, but whatever. Anyway, David/Jirrah is furious with Tessa because he thinks she was part of the conspiracy to frame him for a crime and send him to prison. He also thinks she gave up his child for adoption, and he can’t forgive her for that either. Actually, she did put up his child for adoption, but she signed the papers when she was drugged, and she thought her baby was dead (as you might have guessed, fake deaths are a recurring theme in this book). Tessa’s family was behind these horrible acts, and she finds this pretty hard to face. Still, she wants to be reunited with her child, so she goes off with Jirrah with this goal in mind. She never dreams of trying to regain their lost love; that’s water under the bridge, and she thinks she’s damaged beyond repair.
Jirrah has several motivations. He wants to find his lost child, and he wants to clear his name so he can be considered alive again. He also can’t help hoping that he and Tessa can reclaim the love they once shared. As they try to stay one step ahead of Cameron and find the crucial evidence of all the wrongs against them, they can’t help giving into their mutual attraction. But can two wounded souls ever reunite? And can they possibly thwart their powerful enemies?
The book kicks into soap opera mode early on, and it never quite shakes the daytime TV feeling. The first stunning revelations all come on top of each other, and it really just seems silly. (“I thought you were dead!” “I thought you betrayed me and sent me to jail!” “You put our daughter up for adoption!” “I thought she was dead too!”) I could almost hear the cheesy “denouement” music and see the artificial lighting.
After this point the book seems to shift into what Suzanne Brockmann called an “orphan off” at the recent RWA conference. (An “orphan off” is when characters one-up each other by revealing ever more horrible information about their histories – ie, “I’m an orphan!” “I’m and orphan too!” “I lost my parents when I was twelve!” “I lost mine when I was one!”) Jirrah has been jailed even though he’s innocent, and he’s still on the run from the law. He warns her that even speaking his real name of David could get him in trouble (I had to laugh at this one. I’m not an expert in Australian naming practices, but something tells me David is not exactly an unusual name down there either). He’s hated by her family, and he’s bitter about his horrible life. Tessa is equally wounded, with a psycho-stalker ex-husband and a family who wouldn’t even believe that she was abused. They take turns being mad, hurt, angry, and bitter. They’ll be having a conversation, and then something will send one of them off into sarcasm or a good sulking session.
When they manage to put their bitterness and angst aside long enough to have sex, they are given to calling each other by their animal nicknames (she’s a swan, he’s a dolphin) and spouting off flowery endearments. I managed to suppress my desire to snicker every time Jirrah said “Fly for me, my wild swan!” (which was often), but I had to laugh out loud when Tessa got carried away and yelled, “Jirraaaaaah!”
Taste can be a funny thing. For me this was a cheesy, soapy angst-fest that I couldn’t wait to finish. On the other hand, the writing was fairly smooth, and it did flow along at a good clip. If you like your books dripping with angst and melodrama and you enjoy all those shocking revelations on daytime TV, then you might like this a whole lot more than I did. But even though the book hints at a sequel featuring Tessa’s equally angsty brother (currently on a “walkabout”), I think I’ll just leave the swans and dolphins out in the Outback and find something else next time.