Mommy Said Goodbye
In an interesting twist, Mommy Said Goodbye is a Harlequin Superromance, but the romance is actually the least super thing about it. The love story is only one of several unfolding threads in the book, and ultimately, it’s the least interesting one. But the emotions and character drama that spring from Janice Kay Johnson’s eye-catching premise still make it a most worthwhile read.
For a year and a half, Craig Lofgren lived under a veil of suspicion after his wife mysteriously disappeared. A commercial pilot, he came home one day after a canceled flight to find her gone. Her purse and ID were still in the house, none of her clothes were missing, her car was in the driveway, but she was nowhere to be found. The police believed he killed her, an opinion shared by nearly everyone in their small town. The neighbors ostracize him and his children, ignoring them while casting suspicious glances in his direction. Only his son’s claim that his mother said goodbye before she left prevented him from being arrested. Craig still doesn’t know if his son was telling the truth or made up the story.
His young daughter seems to have adapted to the loss of her mother without any major scars, but his son is angry and emotionally troubled. Craig doesn’t know how much so until he gets a call from the boy’s sixth-grade teacher asking him to come in for a conference. Robin McKinnon knew Craig’s wife, a happy, outgoing woman and seemingly the perfect mother who doted on her children. It seems impossible to believe she would have walked out on them. But when Craig comes to her classroom, she doesn’t meet a man who looks like he got away with murder. She can see the heavy burden he carries from living with the uncertainty and suspicion of what happened to his wife. For the sake of his son, she tries to reach out to him.
A single mother herself, Robin encourages Craig’s son to sign up for the same soccer team her son plays for and asks the coach to take him on. The boy flourishes on the field and begins to become more adjusted. But the time they spend together for the sake of their children also brings Craig and Robin together more and more often. While they both feel the attraction between them, Craig knows he can’t become involved with another woman until he knows what happened to his wife. But when the police detective on the case dies, his daughter takes over the investigation. Ann Caldwell is determined to nail the man her father was convinced killed his wife. Her investigation renews the nightmare for Craig and his children, but it also may finally lead to the truth.
The character drama is the strongest element of this story. Johnson doesn’t dig as deep into the material as I felt she could have, but the story she does tell is still effective. She captures the sadness of the situation, and does so with a lighter touch that helps the reader feel the poignance of the characters’ dilemma without the story becoming too heavy or depressing. The characters are empathetic and it’s easy to feel for them and be drawn into their lives. Craig’s frustration and loneliness, his son’s anger and confusion and Robin’s own uncertainty toward the man she’s falling in love with all come across on the page. Johnson’s writing is engaging and keeps the story moving at a brisk pace for a character-driven book.
The story is less a mystery than it is a procedural. The solution to the disappearance of Craig’s wife becomes clear long before it arrives, but what is more important is the path the characters take to get there. Even while it’s easy to see where the story is going, Officer Caldwell’s investigation remains engrossing, as she tracks down leads and slowly pieces together the truth. This is not romantic suspense, yet Johnson still does a better job depicting a police investigation where the officer has to do the legwork to get to the truth than many romance mysteries.
As for the romance, it’s reasonable enough. They spend time together. They talk. They grow closer. It unfolds in a believable manner, but the relationship scenes lack the emotional pull of the rest of the story. The love story just isn’t as compelling as the emotional drama surrounding the disappearance of Craig’s wife and the impact it has on the characters, or as engaging as Ann Caldwell’s investigation. It’s fine, but easily the least interesting of the storylines. The choice Craig and Robin make at the end is a little hard to believe given the point where they are in their relationship at the end of the book.
The romance may be somewhat lacking, but the rest of Mommy Said Goodbye is a strong and emotional story worth reading.