This book was an interesting departure for me. It consistently thwarted my desire to be involved in the romance - but the secondary storylines were intriguing.
Twenty years ago, Emma Garrett and Jimmy Falcon spent an idyllic summer in love on the South Dakota reservation where Jimmy lived and where Emma’s father was doing research on the Sioux language. They were lovers, but parted amicably when Emma went home to England to study at Oxford. Jimmy also left the reservation and since then he’s been in the military and law enforcement. Now retired, with permanent injuries to his back and leg, he’s the owner of a popular jazz club in a dangerous neighborhood in Denver (where the thieves and drug addicts never touch his Jaguar, parked outside).
Jimmy and Emma reunite when she arrives with a beautiful silver medallion, given to her father by a tribal elder and now willed to Jimmy. Attached is a note from Professor Garrett, saying that he thinks the medallion has a “purpose in the lives of those who hold it.” He wants Emma and Jimmy to work together to discover its significance.
Jimmy is touched by the bequest but unmoved by the request - he’s got a life and doesn’t want to revisit his Sioux roots. Emma, however, lost her job in academia recently and has some time to spare so she decides to stick around and look into it. When the guy who cooks at Jimmy’s club quits, Emma offers to take on the job - she’s taken some cooking classes, how hard could it be?
I cheered when I read that this was a book in which the hero and heroine remembered each other fondly. Yippee! No dreaded you-hurt-me-I-hate-you cliché - what original scenario would the author treat us to instead?
But, well, apparently she just decided to leave that part blank. The mysterious medallion is pretty much a throwaway device to bring the characters together, and Jimmy’s reluctance to have anything to do with his heritage, which could have been a plot driver, is also relegated to afterthought-land.
Instead, every time they kiss there’s some weak excuse for why it can’t go further. They’re still attracted, but: Jimmy’s not sure he’s good enough for her; Emma has been hurt before; Jimmy thinks Emma will go back to England; Emma is insecure about herself physically; she’s a do-gooder; he’s burnt out. Whatever. The result is that there’s no focus and no evidence that these characters need each other more than life. Or at all.
I’m all for getting rid of the exhausted conflicts that are used over and over in romance. But it’s a basic truism of all fiction that if there’s no mountain to climb, no river to cross, there’s no victory and no emotional payoff for either the characters or the reader. When Jimmy and Emma finally connect there’s no sense that they deserve their love because they’ve earned it. It just happens, and instead of “oh, yes!” we get “oh… okay.”
Which is even more odd because Emma is actually an interesting and complex character. Oh, she’s an annoying busybody, for sure. She tells everybody how to run their lives on five minutes’ acquaintance. But she’s also very likeable and you never doubt either her sincerity or that she’s going to get her comeuppance. In fact, all the dramatic tension that is missing from the romance is found in Emma’s relationships with the other characters as we wait to see what effect her meddling will have.
If Jimmy and Emma’s story had the energy and discipline of the secondary plots I’d have enjoyed the whole book much more. Instead, the heart of what might otherwise have been a strong book had a very weak pulse.
Finally - I can’t help it - this kind of mistake is a pet peeve of mine. Jimmy drives a “Jaguar XJE.” Except there’s no such thing. Jaguar has made XK-E and XJS sports cars and a variety of XJ sedans, but no XJE anything. Ever. Sorry - but this could have been uncovered with five minutes of research and I wouldn’t have been gritting my teeth every time the “Jag” was mentioned.