Thursday, October 16, 2008

River Road by JoAnn Ross *****

This is story #2 in the Callahan Brothers Trilogy which takes place in fictional Blue Bayou, Louisiana, deep in southern bayou, swamp and Cajun territory. The story involves the eldest Callahan brother, Finn, an FBI Special Agent who has been hunting a heinous serial killer for over 2 years. The killer was finally caught and behind bars. As the story starts, we learn the killer attempted to escape, and Finn nearly killed him, beating him to a pulp after preventing the escape.

Finn's a big tough bad good guy - I liked the author's description of him as being a young Tommy Lee Jones mixed with the Hulk. (Of course, I knew she meant Jones' onscreen persona, the tough, hard case.) He's by the book, well, except for beating up that serial killer. And his superior officer, a woman who bows to political pressure, has just given him an unpaid leave of absence over that little incident. Grrrr.

He heads back to Blue Bayou, where younger brother Nate asks him to do Blue Bayou a rather big favor. It seems the actors and crew of the popular soap opera River Road are coming to film the big season finale in brother Jack's home, Beau Soleil, and one of the female stars, Julia Summers, needs a bodyguard. Apparently she's been receiving stalker-ish notes, and the last one was slightly threatening.

Julia is the daughter of a couple of hippies (think Dharma's folks in Dharma and Greg). She was raised on a commune, and she carries stones that her mother swears have powers - so she hasn't grown up to be the opposite of them at all. In fact, when she makes Finn for the FBI agent he is, she's pretty ticked off - he's the very embodiment of what she's been raised to believe are the bad guys, pigs, authority figures, who arrested and harrassed her folks at every turn.

Ah, the old "opposites attract" story! Actually, yes, and Ross makes it work! Finn isn't too thrilled to take on this assignment either, but Nate sorta blackmails him by letting him know the show will move to another location, and Blue Bayou will lose out on the money the show will bring to town. Finn assumes she's like her character, Amanda, on the show - a conniving, sexually-loose woman who will do anything to get ahead, and she strengthens that by taking on that persona after they meet. Julia assumes he's hard-assed, by the book... (oh wait, he sorta is) Sparks fly, but he sticks around - 24/7 - a combination that can really only lead to disaster - or attraction.

There's a suspense element with both the stalker and the serial killer still out there. I was actually surprised by the revealing of the stalker, especially since Ross does a little redirection thing that caught me unawares. And the serial killer escapes again...

The writing on this was a little different from Blue Bayou - for one thing, I didn't feel slapped in the face with the overabundance of similes that had me rolling my eyes in that story. Also there was a lot more humor, and I found myself chuckling several times. Every time I did, I wondered if I should mark the line to include in a review, but somehow it all seemed so contextual, sorta like "you had to be there" to get the humor. It wasn't really comedy or funny situations, it was things that came across as real, and wry, and just made me smile in agreement. I saved this one quote as an example, but I have to lead into it. He's finally cracked that granite exterior, at the end, and this isn't really a spoiler since it is a Romance, after all, so you know he's going to admit he loves her. He's actually groveling a little, and he's mentioned having kids, to which she is agreeable.

"Good. Because I want to get them a big stupid dog who'll shed all over and chew up your scripts."

I dunno, maybe you had to be there, but I found that line incredibly goofy and romantic and so not-Finn that it made me laugh out loud.

This one gets a 5 star rating from me!


Not to ruin a good rating, but I do have one, sorta minor, quibble. Near the end, on the last day of shooting, there's the scene where we learn the identity of the stalker. Not to give too much away, but that must have been the longest day in history - first they shoot the final scene, then It Happens where Julia, uh, goes missing, then We Find Julia and Bring Her Back To Beau Soleil (and I'm thinking, there must have been some time spent with the police?), and it is mentioned that the sun is going down

after that we have the stalker incident Where The Stalker's Identity Is Revealed and Guns Are Involved,

Finn and Jack drive the stalker, handcuffed, to Baton Rouge...

Now, if that wasn't the longest day ever, while Finn and Jack are off on their roundtrip to Baton Rouge, which I figure has to be 3-4 hours minimum, since surely they have to explain some things to the authorities there, and BR must be a good 60-90 minute drive away, Julia is getting ready for Finn to take her on a date to New Orleans when he returns.

What? When she left Where She Was (before We Find Her and Bring Her Back To Beau Soleil), the sun was already going down. It must be after midnight by now! And after the day she's had, she's going dancing in New Orleans?

I might have to re-read the scene because surely he didn't expect her to get dressed up and go dancing after What Happened?? (How's that for not giving anything away?) And they did not go dancing cuz after Jack and Finn return from BR, There Is Another Incident Involving Guns and Knives. Whew. Long Day.

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