I’ve been a fan of Karen Harper’s writing since she wrote Harlequin Historicals under the name of Caryn Cameron, and have been enjoying her Elizabeth I series for a while. For some reason, I’d not yet read any of her contemporaries until now and remain undecided as to whether I’d try another of her contemporaries.
Claire Malvern and her husband Keith live in a rural lodge in the Pacific Northwest. Both left professional jobs in Seattle to realize Keith’s dream of getting out of the rat race and opening a B&B. At the beginning of the story, Claire awakens to discover her husband gone. After searching frantically for him, she calls Sheriff Nick Braden for help in finding her husband.
When Keith’s body is discovered in a nearby river, the death is initially ruled a suicide. But Claire can’t accept this conclusion and at first is convinced that her husband’s death was an accident. As events unfold, however, she begins to believe that Keith was murdered and that the murderer is a threat to her.
The premise of the story is interesting, and it does have its strong points, but there were an equal number of glaring weaknesses. When Sheriff Braden (our hero, in case you haven’t guessed) comes out to the Malvern’s lodge after Claire’s initial call, our distraught heroine almost immediately notices his good looks and mentally compares him to her missing husband. It required too much suspension of belief to buy into the idea that a frantic wife would be checking out the hunky sheriff who comes to search for her husband and put a damper on an otherwise suspenseful opening chapter.
After discovering Keith’s body, things go from bad to worse. The day after burying her husband, Claire and Nick are already having the “what if things heat up between us” talk. Different people grieve in different ways, but this seemed rather offensive. She is supposedly acting out of desperation to prove that her husband didn’t kill himself, but her actions mostly provide excuses for her and the hero to be thrown together for all manner of deep discussion.
Other internal inconsistencies are at odds with her portrayal of a grieving widow. She’s convinced from the opening chapters that her husband couldn’t have committed suicide, and is determined to prove that his death was either an accident or the result of foul play. Despite her supposed faith in her husband’s character, she is willing to doubt him immediately based on suspicions (and no proof) that Nick Braden presents. It just didn’t make sense for a heroine who believed so firmly in her husband to suddenly decide within a day or so of her husband’s funeral that “Keith might have let her down, but so far, Nick Braden never had.”
Even so, this book did have some real strengths. I have noticed in much of Karen Harper/Caryn Cameron’s writing that she uses locations very well. Far from being “wallpaper,” her settings almost become another character in her books and in this particular story, the rural Pacific Northwest is no exception. The rough terrain, the salmon run, and the river next to the heroine’s home all play important roles in the story. The author researched her setting carefully and brings it into the story gracefully, without lecturing the reader.
In addition, there’s a real suspense component in this romantic suspense novel. Some romantic suspense novels feature a lot of romance and a mystery that’s only mysterious if the reader is TSTL. Not so here – after spending the first hundred pages setting the stage, the author heats up the suspense aspect and provides a solution I didn’t see coming after reading the first part of the story. There’s a lot more going on in The Falls than meets the eye.
While the author’s ability to convey setting is strong and the suspense segment of the story worked, I could not get past the fact that within two or three weeks of the death of her husband, the heroine falls in love – forever – with the hero. Add a lame subplot involving Claire’s parents that I can’t describe without throwing in a real spoiler and you’ve got the two main reasons why what could have been a very good thriller was simply an average romantic suspense novel.