When I think of Sandra Brown, I think of page-turners. Her books aren’t always good, but they are always exciting and hard to put down. At least, that was true until she wrote Unspeakable.
In Unspeakable, we have a small southern town, a folksy retired sheriff, an unsolved murder, some revenge-bent escaped convicts, some sleazy real-estate development types, a tornado, an innocent child, a vulnerable woman, and a mysterious stranger. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it doesn’t add up to much.
Carl Herbold is a very bad guy. He and fellow con Myron Hutts escape from prison and go on a crime rampage that includes bank robbery, rape and murder. Carl is headed back to Blewer County, where he intends to kill his stepfather, Delray Corbett, whom he blames for everything that has gone wrong in his life. Delray is a rancher who lives alone with his widowed daughter-in-law, Anna, and her small son David.
All of Blewer County gets nervous when Carl escapes from prison, especially the recently-retired sheriff, Ezzy Hardge. Ezzy put Carl away for armed robbery and murder, but he’s still obsessed with an unsolved murder that he believes Carl is responsible for. So everyone is suspicious when a strange drifter, Jack Sawyer, appears at Delray’s ranch asking for work.
Carl and Myron get closer and closer to Blewer County. Jack and Anna get closer and closer to each other. (I feel that I should mention somewhere in this review that Anna is deaf. Since this novel is not driven by Anna’s character at all, her deafness is pretty incidental, except in the way that sign language figures into the foreplay between Anna and Jack.) An unscrupulous banker resorts to dirty tricks to get the ranch. After nearly 500 pages there is a climactic scene, during which Carl and Myron get their just desserts, Jack’s mysterious past is revealed, and the unsolved murder is solved. Anna declares her love for Jack, and we all live happily ever after.
There are a lot of problems with this book. Chief among them is that we spend way too much time with Carl and Myron. We are treated to page after page of their loathsomeness, including descriptions of cuticle-chewing, farting, masturbating, and such images as this: “But there was a limit, and Carl had reached his this morning when he woke up to find an armadillo rooting beneath their car and a tick burrowing through his pubic hair.”
I have no idea why Brown chose to crank the gross-out meter up so high. Does anyone enjoy reading this sort of thing?
We also spend far too little time with Anna and Jack. Their romance is sweet and eventually sexy, but you never really get to know them. I know that this book is aimed at a mainstream audience, so the love story doesn’t have to be front-and-center. But for me, it’s the love story that makes me care about the characters. If we had spent more time with these two, learning about who they are, maybe Carl and Myron’s approach to the ranch would have actually been suspenseful, rather than boring and disgusting.
Finally, there are all these irrelevant subplots that serve mostly to make the book longer. Delray’s complicated relationship with Anna, the sleazy banker’s machinations to get his hands on the ranch — do we care? The end result is a novel that is, quite simply, dull.
All in all, I would have liked this book to be about Anna and Jack. Instead I got a road novel about Myron and Carl and their various unpleasant habits. Maybe it should have been called Unpleasant. Or Unsavory. Or how about Uninteresting? It doesn’t matter – I strongly recommend that you spend your money on something else.