Wow, right out of the blue and just when you least it expect it, a knock-out novel of romantic suspense.
From the first page to the last, author Erin Grady deftly juggles two intertwining stories, one taking place in the present day and another more than 150 years earlier, delivering nothing less than a fascinating read.
The calm and predictable world of New York City sales rep Tess Carson shatters when she receives an afternoon phone call from Craig Weston, the principal of the school her seven-year old niece attends in an isolated California mountain town. It seems that Tess's space cadet sister didn't show up to collect her daughter at the end of the school day and, unless emergency contact Tess can manage to get there soon, Caitlin will be parked in a shelter until her mother reappears.
Unable to bear the thought, Tess hightails it to California, where the bad news doesn't get any better. Not only is her sister Tori still missing, on the very same day of her disappearance, the rancher she worked for is found dead under highly suspicious circumstances. Add in the fact that a large sum of money is also missing from the rancher's home, and all signs point to Tori as a thief and fugitive from murder.
Though Tess knows her beautiful sister lived a less than responsible life, she doesn't accept for one moment that Tori would abandon her daughter Caitlin. Even more mysteriously considering her fear for her sister, Tess finds herself inexplicably drawn to Grant Weston, the son of the murdered rancher and the brother of school principal Craig, even though he hardly shares her belief in Tori's innocence.
Matters get even more suspicious (not to mention more complicated) when Tess begins to experience vividly real flashbacks to the life of another woman in another time and place - flashbacks that seem to parallel the circumstances facing Tess, Grant, Craig, and Caitlin in modern day California.
Frankly, I want to be careful not to give too much away since Echoes is a book in which the pieces of the puzzle are painstakingly revealed and connected piece by piece. And, amazingly, considering that I usually find one of the dueling stories in these parallel plot kind of books to be far less compelling than the other, Ms.Grady somehow manages to perform the astounding feat of making both - the events in modern day Mountain Bend, California and the experiences of a family traveling west in 1849 - equally riveting. To put it simply, there are no wasted pages here and no sections you'll find yourself skimming.
As for the characters - especially Tess, Grant, and Caitlin - they are wonderfully drawn, fully three-dimensional people. Not surprisingly, all of them have Issues (definitely with a capital "I") that believably color their behavior and, unlike a lot of lesser books out there, nothing is stereotyped and nothing broad brushed.
Even more intriguingly, these very real people are forced to confront some very unreal happenings, all while dealing with tragic, life-changing events. Tess, the driven, responsible sister, must face her fear for her sister and niece and her not-to-be denied feelings for Grant. A once-famous actor whose crash-and-burn was all too well documented in the tabloids, Grant is a man trying to put together the pieces of his life and sort through his all too complex familial relationships and his burgeoning feelings for Tess. Young Caitlin is an especially vivid character. We've all known those kids at least once in our lives who somehow, astoundingly manage to raise themselves and Caitlin is one of that rare and heartbreaking breed. Her mother's chaotic lifestyle has left a bitter mark on the hyper-sensitive child and, believe me, you'll find yourself wishing mightily for her HEA.
As for quibbles, to be honest, you'd have to be fairly obtuse not to see who the villain is here, but for my money that's a small matter indeed when there are so many reasons to read this book.
Since I'd never heard of Erin Grady before, I went on the Web after finishing the book and discovered that the former Golden Heart finalist published just one book previously (now out of print) in 1994. If Ms. Grady spent those years looking for a publisher, I sincerely hope there are some red faces in New York right now. Berkeley should score big with this author - she's the real deal. In fact, Echoes is so far above the general run of romantic suspense, that I unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre. As for writers to whom I would compare her, there's a hint of the complexity of Susan Squires' No More Lies and a whiff or two of Run No More (Catherine Mulvany's new one) to be found here, but for the most part this is unqiue and wonderful stuff. I'm not generally a late night reader, but this one kept me up way past my bedtime. My guess is it just might do the same for you.
-- Sandy Coleman
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