I’ve been following with some amusement the dismay online that Linda Howard lowered herself to collaborate with two friends and fellow authors on the Raintree trilogy. I mean, how dare Linda Winstead Jones and Beverly Barton have the audacity to think they have any right to create a series with a friend? After all, no matter who they are, they are not Linda Howard and Linda Howard should not be working with mere romance writing mortals. Linda Howard should write all the books! She should write every book in the world! Linda Howard!!! Well, despite all the grousing, here it is, one of the most unexpectedly controversial books of the year: Linda Winstead Jones’s Raintree: Haunted. Jones probably has an impossible task to accomplish when it comes to impressing some fans of the almighty Ms. Howard, but as far as I’m concerned, this was a better book than Howard’s Raintree: Inferno in many ways, although it comes with some rough spots of its own.
While Howard’s book got off with a bang and grew weaker, Jones’s entry has a rough start then gets better as it goes along. It opens with a brief (and pointless) forward written in first-person (the rest of the book is in third) from Gideon’s perspective as he introduces himself to the reader. The forward concludes with this line: “I am Gideon Raintree, and I’m Wilmington, North Carolina’s one and only homicide detective.” Two pages into the book and I was already stopped dead in my tracks. What does that even mean? Obviously it’s not literally true, since there are other homicide detectives in the city. So either the author’s being cheesy or the hero’s a cocky blowhard, neither of which seemed like a good sign.
Gideon is, in fact, a great homicide detective with a nearly perfect record. His supernatural abilities courtesy of his Raintree genes are responsible for this: he can channel electricity and speak to ghosts. Talking to the spirits of the recently deceased at their own murder scenes is certainly an advantage when it comes to solving cases. Then he receives a call from his cousin Echo that her roommate has been murdered. At the crime scene, he meets his new partner, Hope Malory. A new partner is the last thing he wants, since he doesn’t need someone hanging around while he’s trying to talk to the dead. This led to what felt like several forced, overly familiar scenes, where he’s rude and antagonistic and she, trying to be taken seriously as a female cop, is uptight and offended, such as when she tells him he doesn’t have to get snippy with her:
“Do us both a favor and act like a detective, not a little girl.”
Her nostrils flared. Ah, he’d hit a nerve. “I am not a girl, Raintree, you–“
“Snippy,” he interrupted. “A word not used by real men anywhere.”
And I rolled my eyes. Just because she’s not a man doesn’t mean she’s a girl. She’s a woman who’s just as capable of being a detective as a “real man” and can use whatever words she darn well pleases, something I wanted her to point out. In addition, Jones throws in the cutesy touch of the spirit of a young girl named Emma who keeps visiting Gideon, claiming that he’s her daddy and she’s going to be born soon. It’s all too cloyingly precious.
And yet, as the book continued, it started to grow on me rather unexpectedly. Other than those early clunky moments, Jones has a very readable style so the book was never a chore to get through. Once the early antagonism passed, the characters turned out to be interesting, generally likable people who developed a nice, quite convincing rapport. Most important, Jones doesn’t give into one of my biggest pet peeves and have a cop heroine who’s helpless and needs to be saved. Honestly, my favorite thing about the book was probably the fact that Hope is quite capable of taking care of herself. There are several moments where it seems like Gideon will have to come to her rescue, only for her to prove that’s not necessary, thankyouverymuch.
As with Linda Howard’s book, the story takes place within the course of a single week. While the time-frame is certainly short, the romance is more convincing because the author shows the entire week, rather than glossing over most of the days, which allows the reader to see the relationship unfold (and helps the pacing). I guess it’s safe to reveal that Hope ends up pregnant, since it’s mentioned on the back cover (even though it doesn’t happen for quite a while – heaven knows Silhouette can’t miss an opportunity to mention a pregnancy, no matter how much of a spoiler it is). Despite my dislike of the Emma device, and pregnancy plots in general, this all was handled reasonably enough. There are some unexpected moments along the way, and when the explanation for one of Emma’s comments about her arrival was revealed, I cackled like a fiend.
Jones doesn’t bother getting into the larger backstory involving the Ansara and their feud with the Raintree, which spares the reader an overload of exposition. The killer who murdered Gideon’s cousin’s roommate was actually after the cousin…and Gideon is next on the list. Anyone who’s read the first book will know why, but I don’t think anyone who hasn’t is missing out on too much. The suspense plot features some exciting sequences and surprising twists, nicely building in momentum as it goes along. The scenes where Gideon speaks with the dead victims are quite effective, and the author does a nice job portraying the ghosts so that who they were comes across and the reader is able to feel the sadness of their deaths.
As with the first book, this one ends with a cliffhanger that sets up the third and final installment. Despite the wobbly beginning, Raintree: Haunted turned out to be a pretty solid book overall, even if Jones is not, in fact, Linda Howard. Hopefully this portends good things for the final book, Beverly Barton’s Raintree: Sanctuary.