I wanted to give this book a grade of A. Not just for what a good story it is, nor for how well written, nor for how thought-provoking it is, but for how it made me feel, you know, in my heart. But what stopped me was that, as good as it is, The Messenger could have been even better. It could have been something grand. It could have been stunning. However, as it is with some ladies, it was ever so lovely, but just missed being beautiful.
The premise of The Messenger is a new one to me. John Metcalf truly talks to dead people. Willingly and with loving purpose. He has the gift of being able to go over to The Other Side at will, communicate with the dead, and return to life with messages for bereaved loved ones. He’s been able to do this since he was six and his grandmother died. He missed her and wanted to talk to her, so he did. Now he’s turned that ability into a modest living.
As with anything, there are rules to this ability. Two of the three rules John must follow are that he cannot change what is meant to be, and he cannot stay on The Other Side for more than five minutes or he will die, permanently.
Enter Karyn Walker. It seems John and Karyn are destined by Fate to meet because they do twice – once, when his dog chases her cat up a tree, and again later, when John answers a personals ad (placed by Karyn’s well-meaning friend, Celine, in the name of Stargazer). Want to know one of the reasons I fell in love with John? He answered the personals add like this:
Dear Stargazer, I’m sure you will get a lot of letters promising the stars. I can’t give away what isn’t mine. I’m just an ordinary guy who likes dogs, children, old movies, jogging and tennis. I can give you a bit of myself and perhaps a trip to the moon every now and then. Sincerely, JohnWhat’s nice about John is, he’s exactly as advertised. Sigh.
Karyn and John are attracted to each other, enjoy each other’s company, kiss sweetly, and enjoy hot, sweaty sex. These are grown-ups we’re talking about – grown-ups with jobs, parents, druthers and dislikes, personalities with warts, and loving hearts seeking a mate, just as we all do. The trouble comes when Karyn tells John she hates psychics. After her father’s death, a fake psychic bilked her mother out of nearly everything, and Karyn can’t tolerate even talking about such frauds. Knowing this, John has kept his true vocation from her for fear of losing her. We all know where that will lead, and it does.
This book is self-published, most likely because of it’s unusual storyline. Editors and publishers don’t seem to buy stories like this one – a big mistake here. The only thing that’s different about The Messenger from most romances of similar length (category romances) I’ve seen is that it’s better. It makes the reader think about life and death, biases, the meaning of love, and even God. Yet it’s not done with a heavy hand. It says here’s a possibility – think about it.
The Messenger is a sweet story about two normal people who are looking for love, find it, then have a huge obstacle – trust – they must deal with in order to get their happily-ever-after. When a tragedy befalls someone close, Karyn has to put her anger behind her, and John has to risk everything, including his life, to avert disaster. Without going to The Other Side, his life would have no meaning. There’s nothing on this earth for which John would give up that ecstasy, or is there?
The Messenger is charming, funny, honest, and thought-provoking. The last chapter brings it full circle (so resist the temptation to read the end before you get there). A couple of places in the book brought me to tears – a rare thing for me. There is no earth-shattering, mind-boggling sex, nor is there any melodramatic machismo. It’s you, and it’s me, falling in love with a nice man and finding a way to make it all work.
I have no idea who Robin Valaitis Heflin is, if she’s written any other books, or if she’ll be writing any more. I only know that The Messenger touched me and I’ll remember it with a little smile in my heart and an eensy tear in my eye for a very long time.