The View from Rainshadow Bay
The View from Rainshadow Bay, the first in Coleen Coble’s new Lavender Tides series, is set in the fictional bay-side community of Lavender Tides, Washington State. While Ms. Coble is a well-known, prolific writer of romantic suspense within the Christian community, I haven’t read her before, and the enthusiastic reviews I’d seen had me expecting pure enjoyment. The plot does offer surprising twists and some well-drawn secondary characters; however, the writing lacks spark in all three main story elements – the romance, the suspense and the inspirational (faith) factor.
After Shauna McDade’s husband Jack died in a climbing accident a year earlier, Shauna let everyone in town know that Zach Bannister, Jack’s best friend, was to blame. Shauna’s relationship to Zach is bound in both hate and love – hate because she’s convinced he killed Jack by urging him to a race up a sheer cliff, and love because her five-year-old son Alex adores ‘Zachster’, his buddy and second father. As a helicopter pilot running a tour and trip service, Shauna struggles to keep the business going and to raise Alex on her own while avoiding Zach – no small feat since he owns the private airport out of which she flies.
Formerly a Coast Guard pilot, Zach used his successful financial investments to purchase an airport, and uses his small plane to provide medical transport flights between Alaska and Seattle. The accident that killed his best friend has plunged Zach into depression and self-blame. Seeing Shauna on a regular basis stabs his heart since Shauna’s reaction to the sight of him is to cross the street or turn the other way. Zach is not sure he’ll ever recover from the triple loss of his friend Jack, Shauna’s friendship, and his connection with Alex.
Jack’s death occurred close on the heels of the murder of Darla Glennon, the daughter of Lucy and Clarence, a divorced couple who have been like parents to Shauna since the early death of her mother and her father’s descent into alcoholism. The storyline takes off when Clarence, nervous and frightened, tells Shauna that he plans to disappear for a while and, without details, gives Shauna a box and asks her to mail it to his ex-wife Lucy. As Shauna drives away, an explosion rocks the earth and, turning back, she watches in horror as Clarence’s house is engulfed in flames. The town’s sheriff worries that Shauna, the last person to see Clarence alive, is now in danger. Thinking of Shauna’s isolated house on the edge of town, Zach persuades Shauna that her best option, for Alex’s sake, is for them both to move in with him temporarily. After considering all options, Shauna reluctantly agrees.
Amidst the shock of Clarence’s death, Shauna remembers her promise to mail his box to Lucy but under the circumstances decides to deliver it personally. When Lucy opens it, she discovers a unique necklace which looks exactly like one Shauna’s mother owned, one that Shauna thought was buried with her. The plot twists and turns as Shauna and Zach hunt for the history of the necklace, uncover information about Shauna’s lost siblings, and ultimately tie several deaths to a seemingly inexorable villain. Zach stays close to Shauna at first because he feels responsible for her and Alex after Jack’s death, but slowly he allows his friendship to blossom into love. While living in close quarters with Zach and working together to analyze emerging information about the murders and her husband’s death, Shauna’s attitude towards Zach transforms from blame to trust and finally to love.
Overall, I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the setting and the narrative prose that flows smoothly like calm bay water. As an intellectual exercise, the murders and the efforts to discover the identity of the villain provided enough intriguing twists in the story to keep me curious and reading.
From the positive tone of previous reviews for Ms. Coble’s work, I expected emotional depth to leap from the words, but instead, she uses many pages to explain the various relationships among the town’s people while plotting a mystery and several murders thus leaving fewer pages to convey sentiments and reactions. The author often tells readers that an emotion exists rather revealing an emotional state through the characters’ actions, a technique especially disappointing when applied to both the romance and the suspense. For example, Shauna’s inner conflict concerning her feelings that by loving Zach she is betraying her dead husband falls flat; and the portrayal of Zach’s similar conflict has a bit more punch, but still lacks intensity. In addition, the integration of the expected faith themes is nearly non-existent, with occasional prayers or mention of God added almost as afterthoughts.
Except for the conflict which holds them apart, there is nothing particularly memorable about either Shauna or Zach. Without specific character tags and visual language, these characters could be any young woman and young man, anywhere in the US. I was also regularly jolted out of the story with unclear mid-scene changes in viewpoint, confusing use of pronouns, and difficulty determining who was speaking.
I understand why Ms. Coble is a popular writer. Her prose, descriptions and solid mystery plotting make for an interesting read. Fans will no doubt want to read this first novel in a new series. However, even though I found The View from Rainshadow Bay engaging enough to finish, I would not recommend it to others as a good example of this sub-genre of romance.
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