|Cilla McGowan is many things: child star, failed actress, disgruntled daughter, ex-wife, college dropout, and lately, a contractor who flips properties. When she takes over the
family farm in Virginia with the intention of rehabilitating it, what stands out about Cilla is that she is the granddaughter of Janet Hardy, who bought the house, loved it, and later killed herself there.
Cilla is not unused to the attention about her late grandmother, especially since her mother, a struggling actress herself, brings it up every chance she gets. Cilla's work is, expectedly, stirring up old memories for the people in town, even though who weren't around thirty-five years ago. Even the bitterness that tinges some of those memories doesn't surprise Cilla, who is a little more sharp-edged than most people. However, the violence and anger she experiences through several acts of vandalism and assault catch her entirely off-guard.
Cilla's neighbor, Ford Sawyer, catches her off-guard as well. Due to family history, as well as a failed marriage of her own, she's a little gun-shy when it comes to serious
relationships. Ford, a local boy with a massive support system, isn't so hobbled, and what they took to be a chemistry thing evolves into something else despite Cilla's objections.
When Cilla finds a series of love letters to her grandmother hidden away in the attic, she's forced to wonder, given some of the content, if her grandmother actually did commit
suicide. The idea grows into fruition as the violence against her escalates. Cilla's committed to renovating and living in her family home and staying with Ford, but has to
wonder: is who or what killed Janet Hardy going to be the death of her as well?
I'll be blunt and say I didn't like this book. If it hadn't been Nora Roberts (plus a pretty disappointing year for the summer read in general), I would have put it down before
Part One was finished. I can only think of one previous incident of Roberts being so disappointing, and that was 2005's Blue Smoke. With the exception of Cilla's ex-husband being attacked, this over-400-page book completely missed the mark for suspense. Too many details about Cilla's work on the house drag the plot down as well, and the occasional "true dream" involving Cilla traveling back in time to have conversations with Janet distracts from the already meandering story.
Normally, Roberts writes characters that, even without the plot, suck a reader in; however, it seems that Cilla never really connects with any of the characters; even her
relationship with Ford is dull. With the exception of Spock, Ford's ugly-yet-adorable dog, pretty much all of the characters are lackluster.
This book doesn't deserve only two stars, simply because if it were anyone but Nora Roberts writing it, it wouldn't seem so bad. In fact, it probably would have been considerably more palatable if a hundred or so pages had been shaved off of it, especially from the beginning.
Nora Roberts enthusiasts will likely still want to read this book, although I imagine they will be – as I am — the strongest critics. Other fans of romantic suspense in general may want to forego the read, or at least not expect too much excitement out of it. Unfortunately, this year is not producing too many "hot" novels, so if you're one of
those people who insist upon reading the latest, this won't be any worse than anything else you've read over the last six months. For some reason, I doubt I'm alone in hoping
for a more satisfying read out of The Pagan Stone when it comes out late this fall.