How you react to The Loner will depend on how you approach it. If you begin the book expecting reasonable people acting in a responsible manner, you will be horrified by all the goings-on. But if you look on it as a soap opera populated with cartoon characters, you will have more than just a little fun and lots of laughs at the sheer outrageousness of it all.
I’ll say one thing about Joan Johnston – the lady sure knows how to give you backstory. The book involves two feuding families, the Creeds and the Blackthornes and is the third in the Bitter Creek series (as well as being part of two other, longer-running series), but I was never lost like I have been at times when I come in on the last book of a multivolume story. There are several love stories and a complex plot which is too complicated to go into in detail, but here is the basic gist of it.
The Blackthorne and Creed families have hated each other for oh, forever. Jackson Blackthorne has an illegitmate son, Billy Coburn. Billy is in love with Summer Blackthorne, Jackson’s daughter but it’s okay because she is not his blood sister. Summer is the daughter of Jackson’s wife Eve, by her lover, the former foreman of Jackson’s ranch. Jackson has been in love with Lauren Creed, the wife of the man who is his most bitter enemy, since they were teens. Lauren loved Jackson, but she married Creed because she was pregnant with his child. Eve Blackthorne hated Lauren and hired a hit man to kill her, but he killed Creed instead, leaving Lauren a widow and Jackson free to marry her. Billy Coburn had an affair with a waitress that resulted in a child – Will. Billy loves Will but the waitress wants the baby back since she has found out that Billy is an illegitimate Blackthorne and she smells money. So Billy figures if he marries, he would have a better chance to keep his son since he has cared for him since birth, and he asks Summer to marry him. As if he doesn’t have enough worries, Billy has to leave his job and come back home to take care of his mother who is dying of cancer and his sister Emma who is pregnant by an unknown father. Summer loves Billy, and marries him even though his mother and sister hate her, and she will have to give up her pampered lifestyle, do the housework, nurse a sick woman, cook and take care of a baby. All this and she has to give up her scented shampoo and make do with the cheap stuff. But Billy didn’t tell his mother and sister that he was going to marry Summer, so when she comes to their house, Emma leaves declaring that she hates all Blackthornes. Emma moves in with Sam Creed who needs a housekeeper. Sam’s a paraplegic from an accident caused by a Blackthorne, and he is not at all happy that his mother is getting back with Jackson Blackthorne, and neither is Eve, who is planning to frame Jackson for murder.
I read The Loner with a guilty sort of pleasure. I spent a lot of time talking back to the characters and making rude remarks. Johnstone has a habit of having her characters stop dead in the middle of the action to mentally soliquize and it was such fun insulting them: “Why was she doing this?” (Because you are an idiot, lady.) “She should be happy, after all he was her best friend.” (You could have fooled me!) The characters act so silly and immature, they never stop and think. Instead they run off and act more childish than baby Will – there are times I wished he would give them maturity lessons – and the whole book was so darn silly, but (blush) so much fun! I could not help but laugh at the scene where Jackson and Lauren finally have sex after many years. They throw off their clothes and go at it (twice) with no recovery time… if you get my drift. No problem you say? Well, Jackson is in his mid 50’s and had had heart surgery. All I can say is, “Only in a romance novel!”
Oh heck – I liked it. To me, it was the book equivalent of a good, hammy Joan Crawford performance. Rent All About Eve or Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and you’ll see what I mean. The Loner is my first Joan Johnston book. I had so much fun I may have to try another.