The Man from Falcon Ridge
As a fan of dark heroes and spooky settings, I’m really hoping that Eclipse, Harlequin Intrigue’s Gothic Romance promotion, succeeds. When The Man From Falcon Ridge arrived, I read it right away, despite not liking the author’s last book. The good news is, it’s better than her last book. It’s also not even the worst Eclipse published so far. The bad news is, it’s still not very good.
The premise is a good one. Twenty years ago, a family was brutally murdered inside their home. Ever since, the Victorian mansion outside Tin City, Colorado, has been known as the Hatchet House, nicknamed for the weapon used to slaughter the people who lived there. Rex Falcon’s father, the family’s groundskeeper, was convicted of the murders. Now Rex, all grown up and a private investigator, is back in town to prove his father’s innocence.
He’s not the only newcomer in Tin City. Hailey Hitchcock recently purchased the Hatchet House, planning to start an antiques business there. A potentially haunted house doesn’t scare her. She’s faced worse, including a crazed stalker from whom she just escaped. Rex offers to help her with the renovations on the house, secretly hoping to snoop for clues inside. He can tell that Hailey has secrets, which only makes him suspicious of her and her true motives for being there. But when strange things begin to happen to Hailey, whether from her flesh-and-blood stalker or an otherworldly presence, he steps in to protect her.
The story is readable enough. For the most part, it kept me turning the pages, and it’s not uninteresting (which is a far cry from actually being interesting). But there are numerous problems. To begin with, the characters are all completely one-dimensional. Rex is angry. Hailey is weepy. That’s it. There’s little indication there’s anything else to them beneath those surface traits. As his last name indicates, Rex has a certain affinity for birds (this book isn’t exactly subtle). That’s kind of unique, but really doesn’t deepen his character any. Spending 240 pages with characters this empty grew aggravating after a while. The attraction between them is completely overblown, sophomoric and unconvincing, with Rex salivating over Hailey’s body parts from practically the moment he meets her. There are books that pull off the instantaneous attraction well. This is not one of them. It just feels cheesy.
None of the other characters are any better. Hailey’s stalker is the usual cartoonishly over-the-top lunatic, so eeeeeevil he wasn’t believable for a second. His inclusion in this story is distracting and unnecessary. There’s plenty of mystery surrounding the house to sustain a short series suspense novel without a cliched stalker running amok. All of the people who were involved in putting Rex’s father behind bars are such nasty schemers I could almost see the slime trails they were leaving in their wake. No one else gets even a single dimension, making no impression whatsoever.
The author’s writing is flat and often stilted. More than once I found myself stopped short by an awkwardly worded passage, like this gem: “Cold gray eyes met Rex’s, anger churning in Rex’s stomach at Cohen’s condescending tone.”
Nothing in this book rang true, even as a story intended to fit a formula. Neither the characters, the town nor the plot seemed all that plausible. While the solution to the suspense plot is reasonably unexpected, it also opened up too many unanswered questions. The author throws in plenty of red herrings early on which don’t really make much sense when the reader finally gets the truth. If they weren’t involved in the murders, most of these people are going to a lot of trouble to act suspicious for no reason. In addition, this is the third Eclipse book in a row to throw a stupid Big Misunderstanding at the characters at one point to separate them and leave the heroine vulnerable. This is the most annoying version yet. Enough!
There are a few effective moments of atmosphere here and some decent ideas, but also too many problems for the story to work. I really do hope the Eclipse promotion succeeds. Books like this one certainly won’t help that happen.