My favorite book by Sharon Sala/Dinah McCall is definitely Jackson Rule. While The Return doesn’t match the poignancy of that story, it is nonetheless an intense and immensely satisfying read.
In Camarune, Kentucky, the Blair and the Joslin families are bitter enemies. Many have died by now and there is only one Joslin left: nineteen-year-old Fancy, the love of Turner Blair’s life. Fancy and Turner have married in secret, and Turner has hidden the pregnant Fancy in a cave until they can both escape Camarune and live their lives in peace. Time, however, is not on their side. Weak after giving birth to their daughter, Catherine, Fancy hears the dogs that are out hunting, dogs belonging to Turner’s father Jubal. Turner goes after his father and brothers but arrives too late, finding Fancy dead and the baby nowhere in sight. Crazy with grief, Turner kills his brothers, leaves Jubal for dead, and disappears from civilization.
When a grown up Catherine returns to Camarune, it is to bury Annie Fane, the woman the town had ostracized years ago for being a “witch.” Fancy entrusted her baby to Annie with her dying breath, and Annie, in return, told Catherine the truth about what really happened on Pulpit Rock. As Catherine Fane, she quickly becomes that target of the townspeople’s prejudice who see her as “the witch’s kin” and refuse her the most basic courtesies, such as helping to move Annie’s casket up to her cabin, where she wanted to be buried next to her husband, Billy. As Catherine begins to despair, help comes in the form of Sheriff Luke DePriest, who dismisses the witchcraft nonsense and is instantly taken with Catherine.
Although Luke warns her that there have been robberies in the area, Catherine decides to stay in Annie’s cabin for a few days, to pack up her belongings, and also to nurse her broken heart. Luke, aware of the mob mentality in the town below, insists on checking up on Catherine, who accepts his concern once the thief strikes and the security of the cabin is violated. The attraction between them grows as Luke’s tenderness begins to break through Catherine’s grief, and she realizes her time in Camarune is short.
Catherine faces plenty of dangers in Camarune, both physical and emotional ones, and she faces them all as best she can. Her confrontation with Lovie, one of the women who most vocally opposes her presence in the town, is exquisite, as is her acceptance of Luke’s offer to stay in the cabin for her safety. Catherine neither looks for danger nor shrinks from it; I found her a strong heroine I could cheer for.
Catherine’s match is definitely Luke DePriest. Strong but not arrogant, Luke is there for support and protection, but gives Catherine her space when she needs it. His agony when he feels he’s failed her is real, and from the first moment, Catherine – and the reader – can trust him not to turn away for any silly misunderstanding. Since the problems needed to be resolved here are nearly all external, we can accept their happily-ever-after.
How the rest of the plot is resolved, however, didn’t do justice to the book. The ending is just too neat and tidy for all the bad stuff that went before. While the mystery of Annie’s reputation as a witch is explained, there is really no mystery regarding the robberies that take place throughout the book. Also, the description of small town inhabitants is not the most flattering one you’ll find and some of the secondary characters were a little unbelievable. I will say, though, that once I opened this book, little else mattered until I finished it; the tragic opening hooked me and McCall’s main characters kept me enthralled until the very last page.