Desert Isle Keeper
The Spiral Path
(originally reviewed on December 21, 2001)
In her second contemporary romance, Mary Jo Putney tells the tale of a memorable tortured hero and the woman who refuses to give up on him. While this sounds like a conventional love story, the special characters prove that, as always, Putney can be relied on to deliver something different. The result is a book that will take your breath away from the first page to the last.
In an echo of her historical Fallen Angels series, in which four misfits formed lifelong friendships with each other during their school days, the author brings together five women who went to the same Quaker school. The Spiral Path is the story of one of them: Rainey Marlowe, Kate Corsi’s movie star friend from The Burning Point.
Symbolic for marriage, the spiral path refers to a labyrinth that the characters walk as a means of spiritual reflection. The path toward the center “brings release” while the outward path “represents integration.” Like the book that precedes it, The Spiral Path involves a couple who have a tumultuous married history. It also deals with themes that are every bit as controversial.
Hollywood actor Kenzie Scott has something to hide. Neither his estranged wife, Rainey, nor the reader will know what it is until the last third of the book, but a clue may be found in the movie that Rainey is directing. Here, Kenzie plays the part of a British army captain who is tortured and abused in North Africa. He comes home to his fiancée a broken man, reluctant to accept her offer of unconditional love.
Suspecting that the role parallels Kenzie’s life too closely, Rainey worries that it will bring back memories too painful for him to deal with. Though they haven’t parted amicably, she hasn’t stopped caring for him. But she has to learn to trust him before she can help him, especially when a tabloid reporter threatens to expose the secret of Kenzie’s childhood.
The book practically reads itself as it toggles between the past and the present, slyly presenting the mystery of Kenzie and the reasons for his breakup with Rainey. But for a good portion of the book, I wondered if he was a cheating hero – an oxymoron for many readers. Kenzie and Rainey are still married, but divorce proceedings are ongoing. The reason? She caught him in bed with someone else. However, Kenzie was still dressed when Rainey found him and she left before he could do more than make an enigmatic apology. At the risk of treading into spoiler territory, I must say that there’s a very good explanation behind that scene – it would have been difficult to continue reading the book otherwise.
As for Rainey, some readers may question her seeming quickness to forgive Kenzie even while thinking that he was unfaithful. But this is actually a refreshing heroine-as-pursuer story, in which she doesn’t come across as too aggressive or too much like a doormat. Kenzie’s mysterious past drives the plot, but the real drama is in how Rainey deals with complicated issues of trust while loving a man who’s determined to push her away. In one scene Kenzie, exhausted after battling his inner demons, picks the lock in Rainey’s hotel room, snuggles beside her in bed, then falls asleep in her arms. That they are officially separated at the time makes the incident especially touching.
The first half of the book is gripping, but the climax makes the book literally impossible to put down. When Kenzie’s secret is finally revealed, the drama of their relationship plays out beautifully against the metaphor of the labyrinth. All this and a thoroughly satisfying ending, too. The book bears Putney’s trademark in the intense characterization and the powerful subject matter, but in some ways her writing style here is also different. There’s no violent confrontation at the end and no one gets killed, yet there’s enough suspense to move the story. The most I can complain about is that it lacks the creative sensuality of her previous novels. The love scenes are more subtle than I expected given the theme and the setting. And the “mystery” regarding Rainey’s heritage is not much of one after all.
Although The Spiral Path doesn’t approach the narrative quality of some of Putney’s best historicals, there is only one word for it: unforgettable. Ultimately, it’s a keeper of a story that only an author like Putney can tell – and tell very, very well.