Linda Lael Miller’s latest novel, Springwater Wedding, is a modern-day sequel to her Western Historical series, named for the town of Springwater, Montana. Not having read the previous books in this series, I was a little apprehensive about taking this one on for review. Soon, however, I was practically humming with delight at the wonderful characters and interesting plot unfolding; a B+ for sure. The writing was terrific, the characters and their problems very down-to-earth and likable. Then about three quarters of the way through, everything just wrapped itself up in a fraction of the time it should have. It was as if Ms Miller suddenly got tired of writing it, or perhaps found herself behind schedule or out of space. It was so abrupt that I literally felt startled, and decidedly cheated.
The action centers around Maggie McCaffrey and J.T. Wainwright, both members of the families who founded Springwater and starred in Ms. Miller’s previous works. As kids they’d been in love, but had broken each other’s hearts. A marriage – and divorce – apiece later, they were both back in Springwater, and avoiding each other was impossible. Meanwhile, the town Marshall persuades J.T., now a retired cop, to help him re-open a murder case: that of J.T.’s father, who died when J.T. was thirteen. Maggie’s got other things on her mind as well, such as the impending collapse of her parents’ seemingly rock-steady marriage.
The secondary characters are terrific in this book. I actually enjoyed the story of the teenage newlyweds, Billy and Cindy Raynor, and their complex problems, more than I did that of Maggie and J.T., whose story seemed more like the inevitable taking its course. Maggie’s parents Reese and Kathleen make a great secondary couple as well, with very real problems, but their story is an example of how things get wrapped up a little too conveniently. They have problems with trust and dreams, yet despite Reese’s words to the contrary, after they pass the first hurdle and subsequently make love, their problems apparently disappear, and they are happy and united once more.
The last “secondary” couple were perhaps the most enjoyable. Purvis Digg is the responsible town Marshall who links up with someone named Cowgirl on the Internet, and is surprised to find out that “Cowgirl” is actually the librarian, Nelly Underwood, a woman young enough to be his daughter. The blossoming of romance between this shy couple is perhaps the sweetest in the book, but it, too, gets cut off just when it gets interesting, leaving the reader disconnected from yet another pair of excellent characters (actually a trio if you count Purvis’ inimitable mother Tillie) about whom the reader will definitely come to care.
This book basically amounts to a fantastic build up to a huge disappointment. It still gets high marks for the memorable characters and their wonderful stories – or at least the beginnings of those stories – but the rushed and stingy ending ruins the enjoyment of the first three quarters. If this book were about twice as long, and finished with all the style and skill with which it was begun, it would be in the B+ or higher range without a doubt. As it is, I have to recommend that you skip it; no use coming to care for characters who aren’t treated with the respect and care they deserve by the author who put so much into creating them. What a pity. If Ms. Miller ever intends to re-write this book with this in mind, however, I would be first in line to buy it. Until then, my recommendation stands: give it a pass.