Mommy Said Goodbye
Mommy Said Goodbye is a very interesting story about how a family and a community copes with the unsolved disappearance of one of their own. Johnson skillfully explores a number of very complicated emotional issues, and that, combined with the mystery, makes this one of the more absorbing category romances I’ve read lately.
A year and a half ago Craig Lofgren’s wife, Julie, disappeared. One day she was there, and the next day she was not. Since Julie was the lovely woman everyone liked, the super mom who was on school committees and attended all of her kids’ activities, her absence is noticed. And the fact that she left everything behind – including her purse and keys – makes people cast a suspicious eye at Craig. There are rumors that Julie wanted a divorce, and, rather than give it to her, Craig killed her and dumped her body. But though the case was handled by a cop out for Craig’s blood, no sign of a struggle was ever found. No murder weapon, no body, no evidence of a crime committed. There is simply nothing to point to the fact that Julie didn’t leave of her own accord. Except why would a woman who had everything just walk away from it?
Brett Lofgren, Craig’s son, does think she said goodbye, but in such an obscure way that he can’t decide even for himself what happened, and the wondering is eating him up inside. The pressure at school from the other kids – all of whom think his dad is a murderer – isn’t making things easier either. When Brett starts sixth grade in Robin McKinnon’s class, the burden he carries makes him one angry boy. Robin is concerned, and she feels guilty since she was friends with Julie. Just social, chat-on-the-soccer-sidelines friends, but Robin didn’t make the effort with Brett she could have when Julie went missing because she was dealing with a very messy divorce and its repercussions. But it’s obvious that no one else stepped in either, and someone has to before Brett becomes a statistic. It’s a little disconcerting for her, though, since she doesn’t know what to think of Craig. Robin can’t ignore what people are saying about him, but nothing he’s ever done has made him out to be a cold-blooded killer. In fact, once upon a time, she thought he was a loving husband, a caring father, and a very attractive man….
It must be said that the most interesting part about this book is not the love story. Although this is a romance, the story of Julie’s disappearance and the effects it had on Craig’s family overshadow the story between Robin and Craig. The conflict here is both internal and external, and it weaves itself around every part of the story. The fact that Julie left makes Craig: 1) a single father with traumatized children and 2) the police’s prime suspect in her disappearance. Their community shuns the Lofgrens – which makes for an unpleasant situation just about every time he steps out of the house. Craig worries a great deal about how his son Brett is handling everything, and he feels helpless to stop the police from harassing him and repeating questioning his kids. The investigating officer in this case dies, and his daughter takes over with determination to prove that Craig is the killer that her father thought he was.
Robin has a difficult quandary as well. Helping Brett brings her repeatedly into contact with Craig, whom she is drawn to on a personal level. But if he is a murderer, how can she justify helping him and possibly putting her own son into danger? Yet, if he is innocent, he has paid an enormous price for the grievous sin of having a marriage that wasn’t working. What is the right thing to do? Johnson raises questions that have no easy answers. Can innocence be decided in the court of public opinion? Can you trust your gut instinct when it comes to trusting people? Can you trust what the media tells you? Do you owe it to your neighbor to be compassionate even when it might be dangerous to do so?
As a secondary character Brett is well drawn. His barely controlled rage will resonate with readers who are unfortunately becoming more and more accustomed to seeing horrors like Columbine on the news. But in the course of the story, with the help of Robin and her son, he learns to handle his rage and socialize in healthy ways. Johnson frequently includes in her books teens or preteens going through the difficulties of family crises, and their feelings and behavior always seem authentic.
The mystery of what happened to Julie is eventually revealed, and Craig and Robin aren’t denied their HEA, but the one quibble I had with the book’s ending is that certain scenes happen off stage. Craig goes through an awful lot both because of Julie and because of the assumptions the town makes about him. Without revealing what happens, suffice it to say there’s a lack of emotional justice in the resolution. I wanted to see the reaction of the town when Craig’s innocence was revealed. Frankly, I wanted to see them rip their clothes and cover themselves in ashes or, heck, just plain say they were really, really sorry. But that doesn’t happen, at least not on stage.
One word about the sensuality rating: it’s kisses only, which is unusual for a Superromance, but absolutely right for this story. Craig and Robin are in a very complicated situation, and had Johnson manipulated it just to include the requisite love scene, it would have reflected badly on both of them. Personally I didn’t miss that scene at all and was grateful to be reading about responsible adults who behaved in a sensitive way.
Mommy Said Goodbye is more than just your average category romance. Readers who are tired of clichés in this sub-genre and just want a solid read about the complicated and emotional relationships people have out there in the Real World would do well to check this book – and Janice Kay Johnson – out.