Beyond Compare

Hard-Hearted Texan

Impetuous

Promise Me Tomorrow

Secrets of the Heart

A Stolen Heart

Swept Away

 
Winterset by Candace Camp
(Mira, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7783-2085-5
****
Murder mysteries with a tinge of paranormal events always raise the hairs on the back of my neck and when that type of story includes a decent romance, there is little more to do than recommend the tale to others. Winterset is one of those stories.

Reed Moreland and Anna Holcombe had a lovely little romance several years ago that was ended when Reed proposed and Anna declined by saying she did not love him. Reed left with his tail between his legs and has worked hard to get her out of his mind. But an unsettling dream that indicated she was in danger has him rushing back to his estate in the country to see if she needs help.

Winterset is that estate, and Reed returns, using the reason that he wants to get it ready to sell. His sister and her husband, along with his younger twin brothers all come with him. Upon returning he goes to see Anna, who lives on a neighboring estate, only to discover she is fine. But their attraction is still strong, and Reed is ever more confused by the mixed messages Anna is sending him.

Anna, for her part, feels tortured that Reed has returned. She did love him and only refused him to save him from her family and possibly herself. Anna has learned that there is madness in her family and it might be hereditary. She and her brother Kit have agreed to live their lives on their country estate, never marrying for fear of passing the madness on to their children. Anna understands the rejection that will come if people discover the madness in her family. And she and Kit have an unsettling secret that she believes will make a difference in any relationship, so she makes up the tale that she does not love Reed. What Anna really feels for Reed is the same love and connection that he feels.

Shortly after Reed's return, a young servant is found murdered by what appears to be a beast of some sort. Locals recall that there were two other murders 50 years ago that also seemed to be a result of a beast attack. When a young farmer is also murdered, there is a panic that the beast has returned, as the similarities cannot be ignored.

Reed and Anna join forces to try to uncover the mystery. When Reed discovers Anna's secret, he is determined to prove that her fears are unfounded and that they should marry. Kit agrees to help. But when he is attacked, there is a new fear one that someone is trying to kill Kit and maybe Anna. To add further to the eeriness, Anna has visions and feels the pain of those killed. This helps to lead them to the murderer, while putting her in danger at the same time.

This is a well-written and tautly paced tale. There are intricacies that I hesitate to share without ruining it for the reader. Reed and Anna have reason to fear and have much to uncover about their ancestors and the happenings of fifty years ago. The question is how do those events fit into what is happening today?

There are a few pieces to the tale that seem silly at times, but once the whole story has unfolded, they are a part of the resolution. In retrospect, they offered clues, but ones that were very subtle. This actually added to the overall enjoyment upon discovering the culprit.

Reed is a good hero, ready to love and jump in to save Anna, while giving her time to realize that what they have is too good to let go. The fact that it took some weird dream to force him into action is the only downside to his character. Anna is a strong woman and while self-sacrificing, is not whiny or stoic about her choice. Instead she has accepted it as her lot and moved on, even when she mourns that this is the choice she had to make.

The only piece of the plot that was less than enjoyable was the length of time that Reed and Anna held out on their agreement to forego love. While Anna's stance made sense at the beginning, once the issues were settled, she remained set on her course of action. This seems to drag out her acquiescence a little too long for my taste. Towards the end, it seemed that she was dragging her heels only to prolong the story. But this was a minor annoyance.

Overall, Camp has written a taut and engaging tale that has a little of everything beasts, madness, murder, danger, adventure, mysticism and love. Winterset is a riveting read and easy to recommend.

--Shirley Lyons


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