Springwater Wedding
by Linda Lael Miller
(Pocket, $23.94, PG-13) ISBN 0-671-04248-3
**
I suppose readers who have been following Linda Lael Miller’s saga about the small Montana town of Springwater may want to pay hardcover prices for this book. I suppose. But I fear that readers who are unfamiliar with the earlier stories will find themselves at something of a loss. They may also find this tale of contemporary Springwater somewhat less than compelling, with too many characters and too many relationships and a disappointingly done mystery subplot.

The central romance in Springwater Wedding is a “second chance at love” story. Ten years earlier, J.T. Wainwright showed up at Maggie McCaffrey’s wedding to object to her marrying a med school grad she had met in Chicago. J.T. and Maggie had been teenage lovers; indeed, they had always loved each other. But J.T. was the town bad boy and Maggie been worried that he would end up in trouble. He had broken off their relationship some months earlier and, probably on the rebound, Maggie had gotten engaged to a friend of her brother’s. J.T.’s last minute plea failed and Maggie married her doctor.

It didn’t work and Maggie has come back to Springwater to turn the old stagecoach station into a bed and breakfast. When she made her decision to return home, she didn’t think she’d have to face her old love. J.T. had gone east to New York where he became a police detective, married and had a son. But J.T. was seriously injured and his partner was killed in a shooting. His marriage had already failed. When he recovered, he decided to return to Springwater and try to restore the Wainwright ranch to prosperity. It’s only a matter of time before the two meet.

All is not well in bucolic Springwater. There have been a series of cattle rustlings and poisonings. The local marshal convinces J.T. to sign on as deputy marshal to try to find out what’s going on. J.T. agrees, in part because the crimes may well be connected to the long ago, unsolved murder of his father.

When Maggie and J.T. finally do encounter each other, it’s quite clear that the spark is still there. But while J.T. is quite willing and anxious to rekindle the flame, cautious and conservative Maggie resists. And this is one problem I had with the book. While the younger Maggie had very good reason to be concerned about the younger J.T., it’s pretty clear that this older version is a solid citizen with oodles of charm and sex appeal. Me thinks Maggie did protest too much.

Another problem I had with the story is the inclusion of not one, but three other relationships in the plot. There are the problems that Maggie’s parents are having, with the newly retired husband wanting to travel and the wife wanting to stay in Springwater to pursue her newly developing career as a folk artist. There is the romance of the marshal Purvis Digg and the sweet school librarian. There is the troubled marriage of Maggie’s youthful assistant Cindy and her husband Billy, J.T.’s ranch hand. And, oh yes, there’s Maggie’s best friend Daphne’s problems with her husband Ben when she decides she wants to be a foster parent.

Finally, there’s the whole suspense angle. Frankly, the supposed investigation into the crimes is so haphazard that both Purvis and J.T. come off looking pretty incompetent, which I don’t think was the author’s intention. Moreover, the entire suspense angle didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me in regards to motivation and behavior.

Miller makes continual references to characters from the earlier Springwater stories. While readers who are familiar with these books may find these mentions enjoyable, I found them distracting. I do believe that an author who writes a continuing series has to remember that some readers may not be familiar with the previous works. I often felt that I was coming in at the middle of something, that I did not have enough information to make the assumed connections. This is not a good thing.

Thus, I must advise readers to “think twice” before they reach for Springwater Wedding. Perhaps were this a $6.00 paperback, I might advise differently. But at $23.95, this book is not a good bargain.

--Jean Mason


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