Echoes by Erin Grady
(Berkley, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-20073-6
****
After hearing that her sister Tori France failed to pick up her daughter from school and is missing, Tess Carson flies from New York to Mountain Bend, California, to assume care of her young niece Caitlin. She learns that Tori has been doing bookkeeping work for Frank Weston, a local rancher. She meets his sons Grant Weston, a has-been movie star, and Craig Weston, the elementary school principal.

Soon after arriving at Toriís house, Molly believes she sees a man on horseback calling for Molly. This will be just the first of several uncontrollable visions she will experience. She becomes one with Molly Marshall who traveled from New York to Ohio after receiving a letter notifying her father, a rigidly strict clergyman, that Vanessa, Mollyís sister, has died. She is survived by a son Arlie. Vanessa was married to Adam Weston who lives with his mother Rosie and younger brother Brodie. Soon the Weston clan including Molly who is caring for Arlie will embark on the long and arduous trek to California.

Tessís and Toriís father was an Air Force chaplain and just as inflexible as Vanessaís and Mollyís father. There are many other spooky coincidences. Is there a connection between the events of the past and Toriís disappearance?

The publisher is marketing Echoes as romantic suspense, but that is somewhat misleading. There are mystery and time-travel elements to the plot, but even though it isnít set in a spooky castle, its origins are pure Gothic.

There are two parallel stories in Echoes Ė the primary story set in present-day California, the secondary set on the wagon trail to California in the mid-nineteenth century. Just as the visions overtake Tess, the secondary plot gradually takes over the book. The historical characters seem more vivid, their motivations more understandable.

It doesnít help that modern-day professional woman Tess displays classic Gothic heroine tendencies. Her sister has disappeared. Her sisterís employer has died under suspicious circumstances. Money is missing. Someoneís coming into her house and leaving threatening messages. Her niece has no one else. Good grief, Tess! Leave town! Run! Run! But, of course, she doesnít. Heroines in Gothic novels never do.

Mollyís situation is even more perilous. Once a wagon train departed from Independence, Missouri, the pioneers were pretty much on their own. When Molly starts to realize whatís really happening, she has no one but Adam to turn to. But she delays too long, and her very life is in jeopardy. And sheís been separated from the rest of the group.

So Echoes has two Gothic heroines for the price of one.

The principal male characters, Adam, Grant, and Craig, are sketchily drawn. Other than his movie star looks and sex appeal, itís hard to understand what Tess sees in Grant. Mollyís growing concern over Brodie is more credibly developed than the romance.

What Echoes does have is a strong sense of those classic Gothic elements: atmosphere, supernatural portents, and gloom and doom. Tess arrives at Toriís isolated house after dark during a thunderstorm. The Weston ranch house is dilapidated and poorly lit. Doors bang; the electricity goes out. Women are in distress; the past and present are eerily intertwined. Itís all worked for centuries, and it works in Echoes.

Readers who enjoy stories with ominous overtones should check out Echoes. But only the most intrepid should attempt to read it on a dark and stormy night.

--Lesley Dunlap


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