In the interest of full disclosure, let me get something out of the way. Unless you had a similarly unorthodox childhood, I don’t think many others will pick up something that affected my overall impression of Sandra Hill’s Pearl Jinx. The Amish play a large part in this novel; their customs, religion, and beliefs all influence the main characters and the happily ever after. I grew up in an area heavily populated by an Amish community, and one of our closest family friends were an Amish family. This is an anomaly. As Hill points out, the Amish are not a community open to outsiders. We were very lucky to be accepted into their lives, and to have them accept the invitation into ours. The insight I have, therefore, differs from that of the author of this novel, and played a part in how well I enjoyed it.
Caleb left his Amish community as a young man, suffering under the shunning that comes with leaving the religion. He used his anger and pain to fuel his ambition, joining first the Navy SEALS, then Jinx Inc, helping people find lost treasures across throughout the world. He’s survived since his shunning by always keeping his distance. This assignment, though, close to his hometown and his family, makes it hard to keep emotions at bay.
Claire is an historical anthropologist determined to preserve the rich Native American history in her particular corner of the world. A company determined to dive for cave pearls in an historically significant cave, however, starts to cause problems. And not just professionally. When Tante Lulu gets in on the action, all rules fly out the window. Introduce a giant snake named Sparky and nothing will ever be the same.
Sandra Hill is funny. And she writes funny characters. Fans of her previous books will like the subplots employing some previous main couples, and those not familiar with them will still be able to enjoy the obvious emotional connections. The book does get over-crowded – and it’s obvious everyone gets a story eventually – but Hill is careful not to put too many people in each scene, which meant that I was able to keep most people straight, even if I didn’t always remember who they were the next time we met.
There’s a great deal of plot that revolves around Caleb and his relationship with his Amish family, which as I explained above, I don’t think is fair for me to go into. However, this is where I really felt the emotional core of the story lay. While I never really felt the connection between Claire and Caleb, the love – and the pain that comes from love – really comes through with Caleb and his brother, sister, and parents.
The only hesitation I have in recommending this book lies in Caleb’s portrayal. His character is meant to be wry and sarcastic, and a lot of his character is actually cemented in the asides he makes as he deals with situations. This ploy occasionally felt heavy-handed, though, with Caleb being more snarky than witty – this didn’t earn him any sympathy or laughs from me. Hill does a good job of showing the pain Caleb carries inside of him, but making him a sarcastic son of a so-and-so didn’t endear him, at least not to this reader.
If you read this book, you’ll laugh. There’s a lot of witty dialogue and fun slap-stick, and the situational humor is very well done. At the end, however, I feel that the novel reached for the laugh at the expense of the emotion. The only real depth here is in the cave-diving.
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