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Come Morning by Pat Warren
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-60388-0
****
As I think back on Pat Warren's Come Morning, the thing that stands out the most is how real this book felt. I believed in these characters, and almost everything they said or did seemed perfectly natural and uncontrived to me. That's quite a feat.

Briana Morgan has come to Nantucket four months after the vicious, anonymous murder of her ex-husband and their seven-year-old son. Weighed down by grief, she plans to stay on the island where she has many happy memories, hoping to find a measure of peace. She will stay in the home of her beloved grandfather, who lies in a nursing home near death, a victim of Alzheimer's disease.

Jeremy Slade (who for some reason prefers to be called simply "Slade") is also a recent arrival in Nantucket, and he's also dealing with some heavy-duty issues. He's staying in the house his estranged father left to him upon his death. Slade hasn't seen his father since he was a child, so he's having a hard time understanding why his father even bothered to name him in his will, let alone make him the sole heir to his rather large fortune. Add to that, Slade is tormented by a tragic incident that caused him to quit his job as a firefighter. He lives with grief and guilt.

Now, when I put it all out for you this way, it sounds pretty darn depressing, right? It's not. With highly commendable skill, Warren has made this story an emotionally intense but affirming, hopeful tale.

It happens that Briana's grandfather's house sits next door to Jeremy's father's house. Reluctant neighbors, these two wounded souls make a few missteps in the development of their friendship, but friendship is what they ultimately find. Friendship, and then something much deeper. Their relationship develops slowly and naturally, growing and intensifying with each interaction. It's very clear to the reader that these two are a perfect match, although it's not always so clear to the characters themselves.

There's very little lighthearted fare here, but I didn't miss it. The emotion in this story feels very true, not at all melodramatic. Furthermore, both Briana and Slade are appealing characters. They're human, they have flaws, and they make mistakes, but they are, at heart, good people who do their best to face their individual trials with strength and courage. I admired them, I liked them, and I truly wanted them to find the joy of fulfilling love.

Slade does suffer from the oft-used "I'm not good enough for you" syndrome, but, all in all, he's much more sensible and sympathetic than many a tortured hero I've read. I found it particularly refreshing that he didn't feel the need to act surly to everyone in sight just because he felt miserable. This guy's got real maturity.

There were, however, some elements in the book that I found problematic. The first concerns the suspense subplot. While in Nantucket, Briana's house is burglarized, and she receives a threatening phone call. Someone, it appears, is trying to frighten her. Who could it be? Well, this is the part I had trouble with. I actually marked the page where I guessed the identity of the bad guy, and that page was in the 30s. That's pretty early in a 344-page novel for a "mystery" to be uncovered, and I'm no Sherlock Holmes, believe me. And the most troubling part I was never sure if Warren intended for me to realize this. She never completely reveals the bad guy's identity until the ending, but there were absolutely no red herrings to lead me astray or give me a moment's doubt.

This absolute foreknowledge of the villain's identity didn't ruin the suspense part of the story indeed, it made it more truly suspenseful, since I knew who the bad guy was and the characters didn't. I was quite anxious to see how and when he would strike. However, when he did make his move, the resulting scene was a dud, since there were no surprises left for me.

Secondly, at one point in the novel, Slade does something that seems completely out of character, and this leads, in part, to a critical plot development. This bothered me, and it probably bothered me more than it normally would have because I truly did believe in these characters. Warren had crafted them in such a way that I felt I knew them well, so I knew Slade would not act this way. It was a jarring moment, but since it was just a moment, it didn't detract much from the book.

Despite these trouble spots, I found Come Morning to be an involving, beautifully written story. Warren's writing style is straightforward but powerful to the point that I felt like I was entering another world each time I opened the book. In fact, something happened to me while reading this book that has rarely, if ever, happened before. While engrossed in a long scene set during a storm, I glanced out the window, and I was actually surprised to see a bright, sunny afternoon. Now that's writing, and I can heartily recommend you read it for yourself.

--Ellen Hestand


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