The setting of Fire & Ice certainly makes this a gothic novel. Depression-era, rural North Dakota during the month of January and a grand old house out in the country beginning to go to seed establish the feel of the story. A brooding man, a somewhat timid woman, a cruel and demanding elderly aunt, a senile uncle, and the eerie memories of dead relatives are all here. Where it falls apart for me is the reason the heroine fled from the house ten years earlier.
Kate Mannheim reluctantly returns to Grand House. The only reason she is returning is because the owners of the New York City bookstore where she works are retiring and selling the bookstore and she wants to buy it. She has little money of her own, but remembers an expensive necklace that her mother had told her years before would be the answer to their prayers. When they were forced to return to Grand House, Kate's severe and disapproving grandmother refused to let them have the necklace. Now that both her mother and grandmother are dead, Kate hopes to find it and use it to buy the bookstore for herself.
Kate left more than her unloving grandmother and her grasping Aunt Ruth behind years before. She also left her first love, Elliott Carstairs. El and Kate had grown up together after he came to live with his great-uncle Garfield, Ruth's husband. Despite the restrictions placed on both Kate and El, the two of them had become friends and then lovers. It had all fallen apart when El was arrested for the murder of a local woman. Only days after the arrest, Kate fled Grand House, not to return until the need to find the necklace forced her to.
Elliott had been released from jail for lack of evidence only a few days after Kate departed. He also left the area and had only returned a couple of months before Kate because he wanted to find out some information from Uncle Gar. By the time he returns, Gar has slipped into senility most of the time. El stays hoping that on Gar's lucid days they can talk and the truth will be
Kate's abandonment and the accusation of murder had hurt Elliott deeply. His first sight of Kate after ten years brings that to the top and his harsh treatment of her is the result. He no longer trusts her and tries not to allow himself to get close to her again. Kate is not sure what to think of
him, but sees some of the old El in the kind way her treats his great-uncle. She tells all of them that she is only back to find what belongs to her, only the items from her mother. Despite misgivings from both, Kate and Elliott are drawn to each other. As strange things begin to happen, the past starts to unravel and danger gets closer.
I certainly felt the isolation and despair that I associate with gothic novels from Avery's vivid descriptions. This is not a house I'd like to be in during the day, let alone after dark. What I just could not get past was why Elliott would want Kate after her abandonment after his arrest. It's
true that he was unwilling to talk about the situation with her right after the arrest, but she was out of there so fast that there was no time for him to start to think clearly. Even with the knowledge of her horrible situation with her grandmother, I could not see a woman who really loved a man leaving so quickly. It just didn't ring true and kept me from believing the rest of the story.
The identity of the villain is hidden fairly well and the climactic finish is dramatic. The romance is just not as believable as it could be, leaving me to shrug my shoulders and not really care.
--B. Kathy Leitle