Talk of the Town offers a chance for readers to enjoy Suzanne Macpherson’s snappy, fresh writing style, but only while enduring uniformly predictable characters. These people are too good (or bad) to be true, and while I realize this is fiction, that’s the problem with this story. The characters are supposed to be stretching their limits and growing beyond themselves, but they don’t really change anything except their surroundings.
Kelly Atwood had a rough childhood and ran away from home at sixteen. Married only a few hours, Kelly is preparing to leave on a Jamaican honeymoon with her new husband, Raymond. She’s twenty-eight now and not only is Ray her boss in a European garment business; she feels he’s her key to a secure future.
While packing Kelly finds that Ray has a stash of cocaine in his suitcase. They have a fight that ends up being lights out for Raymond. Kelly grabs a few things, scuffles briefly with a couple of thugs in the hall and escapes in Ray’s car, leaving him unconscious on the floor. She drives fast and furious to Seattle, discovering a briefcase full of cash in Ray’s car on the way. When she arrives she ditches his car at the waterfront and catches a bus for Canada, taking the money along.
On the bus Kelly meets Myrtle Crabtree, who wholeheartedly befriends her before the bus can reach the border. Myrtle convinces Kelly to come home with her to the town of Paradise, Washington. Kelly agrees and Myrtle takes her in, hinting that the small town of Paradise, stuck as it is in a “time warp” from the 1950’s, has wonderful things in store for Kelly.
One of these wonderful things turns out to be Sam Grayson, a lawyer from a revered local family who years ago set out for Philadelphia to work in the DA’s office. He escaped from a bad relationship only to find himself defending his own ex-fiancée in court. He hadn’t realized what a lowlife that big-city girl was. Sam returned to his roots in Paradise, looking for a simple life, a wife and family. But eligible females are rare, aside from a persistent old girlfriend from high school named Lynnette. Sam has become the pet project of the townsfolk, who want to see him settled down.
The town begins a campaign to throw Kelly and Sam together. Kelly resists at first, but they are mutually attracted even though Kelly isn’t his type with her dyed black hair, big tattoo and vague background. Or is she? Kelly decides to level with Sam and asks for help with her divorce. He is upset, but professional, and after all, the more trouble she seems to be, the better he likes her. This is a good thing because Kelly discovers she’s in more trouble than she thought.
Right off the bat it is clear that Kelly is not exactly a “deep thinker”. Here she is on her wedding day with a drug-peddling, physically violent husband, and she never picked up on this after knowing him for four years? When she wakes up, smells the coffee and is racing to leave, she takes time to focus on cashmere sweaters and seems more upset about leaving behind her designer shoes than she is about her husband being a criminal. When she gets to Paradise, she simply ignores her problems in hopes they’ll disappear.
In Paradise, Kelly is a total stranger whose physical appearance doesn’t fit the norm, but guess what? Just about everyone in town loves her at first sight! Most folks in Paradise seem to think that Kelly can do no wrong. They all may as well wear placards on their chests listing their characteristics—as in: gorgeous, dependable, wealthy, safe-sex-loving hero with heart of gold and stylish apartment; or nurturing, softhearted, motherly, wise, generous friend; or (this one in big red letters) unstable, delusional, ex-cheerleader zealot stalker well beyond her teens but exhibiting scary high school behaviors.
Kelly discovers a big beautifully constructed old house with a great location and a low price tag, but no one has ever thought of fixing it up before she does. Finally a worn out plot device employed late in the book finished Kelly off for me. She was needy enough already. It also suggested that people needed more reasons to love and forgive her. (Kelly’s placard: RESCUE ME!) It’s all too much, even for someone who wishes that places like Paradise did exist.
Macpherson’s writing style is catchy and fun. As a relative newcomer she shows promise and I would try another book by her. Someone else might find that the Talk of the Town formula works for them, but be warned that there is nothing subtle about Paradise, Washington; population: perfect. Everything falls into place as neatly as you please, or too neatly to really please. When it was time to leave this town, I was packed up and ready to go.