I read Mariah Stewart’s new book Priceless in an advanced reading copy that was so full of typos and editing errors that it was a struggle to get past them. But once I managed to don my error filtering blinders, I concentrated on the story and characters and enjoyed myself.
The storyline in Priceless managed to push a lot of my buttons. An old home, the sea, gardening, archaeology, and a large and blessedly non-dysfunctional family all have parts in the book. Rachel Chandler, the heroine is very sympathetic and Sam McGowan, the hero is a total dear. There are a number of good secondary characters, mostly members of Sam’s large and boisterous family. The only character who rang false was Norman Winter the villain of the piece. He was just a little too obviously sinister and could have been wearing a neon sign around his neck with Bad Guy on it.
Gordon Chandler owns a respected underwater salvage company. His son Jared and his daughter Rachel work for the company too. Gordon gets the job of salvaging a Civil War wreck off the Carolina coast. The wreck was located by Norman Winter, a wealthy man who is restoring Eden’s End, an antebellum mansion owned by the captain of the wrecked ship. Since Gordon is currently running another salvage operation, he puts Rachel in charge of this one. It will be her first solo operation.
Gordon has hired archaeologist Sam McGowan to manage the archaeological part of the salvage operation, but did not tell him Rachel would be supervising. The ship’s captain is one of Sam’s ancestors, so he’s looking forward to the job and wants to learn more about his family history. But he’d expected to be working with Gordon, whom he respects, and is disappointed to find Rachel at the salvage site instead. Their relationship gets off to a shaky start, but they are both devoted to their work and find they have a lot in common. They are soon good friends.
Norman Winter, who is financing this operation, is full of quirks. He always dresses in white, always wears sunglasses, and insists on every second of the underwater salvage operation being filmed. It is soon obvious that he is looking for something, but what, and why? Sam and Rachel are as baffled as the reader until they take a trip to Eden’s End and discover clues that lead them to what Norman is looking for.
The mystery in Priceless is not that mysterious. I am usually clueless in figuring things out, but I got this one very early on in the book. Where Priceless shines and shows Mariah Stewart’s skill is her depiction of the growing relationship between Rachel and Sam.
Rachel’s family is not cold and unloving, but they are quiet and reticent – not of the type to show their feelings for one another. Her mother – who was unloving – died when she was eight, and her father has oftren been away on salvage operations. She knows he loves her, but they don’t talk about it.
Sam was raised in a large and loving family by parents who, though they might bicker and snip, still love each other and their children and let them know it. Sam, who has known unconditional love, is able to see the loneliness and insecurity that torture Rachel, and to reach out and offer her his love. And Rachel slowly realizes that with Sam, she is secure and accepted and that his love is true and constant. The scene where Rachel is finally able to ask her father about her mother is touching and brings her closure and peace.
Mariah Stewart is so good at showing family dynamics, that her books really don’t need mystery plots and villains to make them absorbing. We meet Sam’s sisters and brother and Rachel’s brother in this book all too briefly. I’d like to see them again sometime. I don’t think they’d need a mystery plot to make them interesting either.