In This Town
While small-town stories abound in Romanceland, small-town romances in which not everything is sweet puppies and kittens are a somewhat rarer breed. That’s why I enjoy Beth Andrews’ novels: Crimes are committed in Mystic Point, Massachussetts, and not everything is what it seems. In This Town is the third volume in the series The Truth About the Sullivans and brings it to a satisfactory conclusion.
In the first volume of the series, Unraveling the Past, a body is found in the woods near Mystic Point which turns out to be that of Valerie Sullivan, whom everybody assumed had eloped with her lover, leaving behind her husband and three young daughters. While Unraveling the Past and On Her Side describe the slow search for the truth and the romances of the oldest and youngest sibling, police captain Layne and lawyer Nora, In This Town narrates the story of middle sister Tori.
Tori is the one among the sisters who has inherited the most of her mother’s siren sex appeal. Like her mother did, she got pregnant at 17, dropped out of school, married her high school sweetheart and works as a waitress. When the novel begins, Tori Mott is recently divorced and a single mom to a moody twelve-year-old son. While she ended the marriage because she did not love her husband enough, she’s still reeling he has found happiness so soon with a woman who’s quite the opposite of Tori. She is not interested in starting a new relationship herself, but she enjoys doing what she’s always done: Egging on the men who are attracted to her while maintaining a safe distance.
Walker Bertrand is a by-the-book investigator in Massachussetts State Police’s Department of Internal Affairs. There have been accusations of shady dealings regarding the investigation into Valerie Sullivan’s murder and regarding relationships within the Mystic Point Police Department, and he gets sent to bring light on the situation. Walker is an excellent profiler and usually reading the people he interviews is a piece of cake. This is not the case with Tori Mott. While he quickly nails her down as a tease, he can’t help feeling there’s much more to her. It doesn’t help that he’s instantly deeply attracted to her, and vice versa.
Because there is an ongoing crime investigation in this novel, many characters from the first two volumes appear. I had read Unraveling the Past before starting In This Town, but not On Her Side, and it worked just fine for me. Necessary information is introduced, but not at such length as to annoy the reader who is already aware of it. I enjoyed meeting familiar characters very much. Because their lives are still at a dramatic stage in spite of having met their Prince Charmings, Layne and Nora have to face some tough situations, their relationship with each other and with Tori undergoes some changes, and that kept them interesting.
The love affair between Tori and Walker is very much a battle of the sexes from the start. Both delight in dominating and manipulating others (and are likeable in spite of this – kudos to Beth Andrews!), and part of the fascination between them stems from the fact that here each have found their match. This made their dialogue snappy and the tensions between them high, but it also made me question to some extent how they will deal once this particular frisson is not longer the main draw of their relationship. I wanted them to have their happy ending as I liked them both; I just would have liked to see more ‘normal’ interaction between them to make it completely convincing.
While the solution to the crime is just a little pat for my taste, created so it does the least damage, there a minor plot in the whole of the series, a love triangle of sorts, that is resolved in a most satisfactory manner, especially taking into account the characters’ ages. I also liked the unsentimental way the series deals with the topic of teenage pregnancy and all the good and bad decisions people make when faced with it.
All in all In This Town was a pleasant conclusion to an enjoyable series. I especially recommend it to those who like their small-town romances with a pinch of salt.