The first few chapters of Homeplace had me laughing out loud, and I settled myself in for a fun read. Unfortunately, it gradually lost steam – the quality of writing became more uneven, and the characters less interesting. It had some humorous moments, but by the end it was only a shadow of what it had promised to be.
Raine Cantrell is a hard-hitting New York attorney on the fast track to partnership. She lives her work, and pops antacids like candy. But she also feels an obligation to her family back in Coldwater Cove, Washington. When her grandmother calls for help, she takes the next flight west. Ida Lindstrom (Raine’s grandmother) is a retired doctor who has taken in three troubled teenage girls. When Ida is hospitalized, the girls barricade themselves inside the house and get in trouble with the law.
Raine arrives in town with guns blazing, ready to do battle with the local sheriff over the girls’ fate. She is surprised to find that Sheriff Jack O’Halloran is a reasonable man who doesn’t intend to harm the girls or remove them from her grandmother’s custody. Together they appear in court to defend the girls’ actions, and the judge allows the girls to remain with Ida – on the condition that another, younger adult must stay with them for one month. Raine is reluctant to take time away from her law practice, but she decides to stay out of obligation to her grandmother. Raine and Jack are very attracted to each other, and they start spending time together. At first they are both sure that a relationship won’t work. Raine intends to return to New York, and Jack is still recovering from his wife’s death from ovarian cancer. Jack is sure Raine would never leave her glamorous life in New York to stay with a small-town cop. But as their love deepens, they each begin to hope that they can somehow be together.
Homeplace has a lot going for it. Jack and Raine both have loads of personality, and the first scenes of the book prime the reader for an all-out battle between them. Jack is an enjoyable character; he’s a tough sheriff, but he takes time out of his workday to care for his daughter’s virtual pet. Even more intriguing is Raine’s mother Lilith, whose own romance is a sub-plot. When we first meet Lilith, she’s dancing around a campfire naked – in a national forest – celebrating Beltane. The sparks fly when her old high school sweetheart, Cooper, shows up to arrest her.
The problem here was that Lilith and Cooper’s early scenes were actually more interesting than anything else in the book. After reading them, I expected a whole lot more of the same, and was soundly disappointed. At one point, Jack commented that there were sure to be more fireworks between Lilith and Cooper before they settled down, but there never were, and at the end they just had a nice quiet resolution. Perhaps Ross sensed Lilith’s scene-stealing potential, and kept her story out of the limelight so she could focus on Raine and Jack. Too bad Lilith wasn’t the heroine – if ever a secondary character was crying out for her own book, she was it.
Another difficulty was the writing quality in general, which started out pretty well but suffered towards the middle and end. Although the dialogue was well-written, there were a lot of uninspired nature descriptions. There was also a scene in which the reader witnessed Jack’s deceased wife’s video farewell. Her last words to him borrow a little too heavily from the Sullivan Ballou letter, easily recognizable to fans of Ken Burns Civil War documentary and its soundtrack.
On the whole, the quality of this book is uneven. It’s too bad, because the beginning is terrific. JoAnn Ross clearly has talent, but I don’t think it’s showcased well here.