I know Karen Robards is a popular author, so, after reading Paridise County, I debated what to say in my review. My final answer? Well, the truth is, at $24.95, this book is so not worth the money, I hardly know where to begin.
When wealthy Charles Haywood is found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the stable where he kept his Thoroughbreds, his daughter Alexandra comes home to Kentucky, to Whistledown, the family’s generations-old horse breeding farm. But Alex hasn’t come to bury her father as much as to sell everything off and tell the employees they are being dismissed. Wealthy Charles wasn’t so wealthy after all.
But when Alex tries to quietly and humbly dismiss the farm’s sexy manager, Joe Welch, Joe kicks up a fuss and refuses to go. A battle of wills ensues, an argument erupts, and the sparks of sexual tension fly (supposedly). Alex stomps back to the Big House on the Hill a few hundred yards up from Joe’s house – where he has lived with his three kids ever since his wife ran off. After a couple of distressing phone calls, Alex discovers that Paul, her fiancé, has dumped her and married another, and that her younger half-sister, Neely, has been kicked out of yet another school. Dead father, gallivanting socialite mother (whereabouts unknown), out-of-control half-sister, no money, no man, outraged farm manager, muddy stiletto boot heels (from all that stomping) … all in all, a pretty sucky day for our heroine.
In a blinding flash of realization (actually, one of his cowhands has to remind him), Joe remembers he has a contract and can’t be fired. So there! Joe stomps up to the Big House on the Hill to blast Alex with this news only to find her an emotional ball of nerves. Out of nowhere, Neely shows up, potty-mouthed and angst-filled, so they all call it a day.
Alex and Neely retire for the night only to be awakened by something. Alex swears she hears raspy breathing coming from the foot of her bed. She gives chase and falls, hitting her head (or was she hit?). She and Neely race back down the hill (too scared to stomp) in their sheer, 100% pure silk, thin as air, drenched and clinging transparent nighties, to Joe’s house. Halfway there, Alex falls again. It’s raining. It’s muddy. It’s near freezing. She’s hurt, cut and bleeding. Joe arrives to scoop her out of the mud. Alex glances up to see the shadow of a man standing on the balcony of the Big House on the Hill.
Alex tells Joe everything and Joe, our stalwart hero, our intelligent, brave gallant, tells her it was all in her imagination. He doesn’t even investigate the house, he just tries to talk her out of what happened. Then, he takes her into the shower to wash all the mud off her poor, cold boobies, and they both get so hot, they nearly have sex. That’s a big huh? good buddy. But, but, but, she’s hurt, cut, bleeding, has a concussion. There was someone in her house who could still be there! Call the sheriff! Call the state troopers! Call Mighty Mouse, but call somebody! Right? No, these two people who can’t stand each other forgo common sense and simply go hormonal.
Joe isn’t the brightest bulb in the pack. He never believes anything anybody tells him, yet he doesn’t do his own investigating either (and when he does, he determines that Alex imagined everything). His wife left him “years ago” but he never tried to find out where she went. Alex and Neely tell him exactly what happened, but he just shrugs it off. His father is certain he’s found a winner in the new stallion they bought, but Joe dismisses the notion because his father’s an alcoholic. Joe grumbles and gripes … I have no idea why Alex fell in love with him. Nor him with her.
Once Alex has been to the hospital, they finally manage to have sex. But, since Alex has only known Joe for a couple of days, she calls him by her old boyfriend’s name (twice). Two things about this were tacky. The first was that they had sex the second day they met, and the second was that Alex called Joe Paul (perhaps it was the concussion). This was a device to build up steam again between the too-early-in-the-relationship sex and the later-now-that-we-know-each-other-better sex. Most women are very careful about the name they blurt out in a moment of abandon and using the wrong name is something women are very careful not to do, so this device really didn’t work for me.
This “romance” is set against a backdrop of murder. How did Alex’s father really die? Where did Joe’s wife really go? Was someone really in the Big House on the Hill, or was it a ghost? A ghost? Isn’t there enough junk going on here without a ghost? Somebody is making people disappear and we get inside the murderer’s head enough times to be thoroughly disgusted. While there is no violence to speak of in Paridise County, there is cruelty. If you don’t like cruelty to helpless things, that’s just one more reason to avoid this book.
When the murderer is revealed, it is no surprise, since the author only gave the reader three peripheral choices. Really, it could have been anybody. There are no clues, no weaving of the murderer’s story within the structure of the novel … poorly done.
This story had some real potential, but an unappealing hero and heroine, a virtual blank as a villain (except for when he’s “playing” with his captured toys), an irritating teenager (I guess that’s redundant), and only a little excitement at the end make Paridise County a must-miss. If you’re a huge fan, I’d recommend waiting for the paperback or stopping off at the library.