by Phyllis A. Whitney
Publication Date: January 1, 1974
Wow, can Whitney be verbose. Her earlier work has always been better, in my opinion, but this one was an in-between – first published in 1974. Which makes the plotting excellent, and the abuse of the expository extreme. Unfortunately the expository gauntlet must be run for many chapters before a hint of the rewarding plot can be found.
I’m undecided on whether it’s worth the effort. The plotting was very well done. I was absolutely certain I knew who the villain was right up until almost the end, when she convinced me I was wrong, that it was really …. and then she blindsided me with the solution that was just unexpected. Whitney got huge bonus points for stunning me, but I’m not sure how I actually feel about it as a legitimate ending. It works, but it feels like it shouldn’t.
The characters, and the romance, were, as is typical with both Whitney’s writing and the time she wrote in, dramatic and overly simplified. Insta-love has nothing on romantic suspense from the 70’s; and characters’ personalities are never subtle or nuanced. If you accept this as the style of its time, it’s not an insurmountable problem.
The one thing Whitney never lost, no matter how many books she wrote, was her sense of place. I’m not sure I’ve ever read anybody better at putting the reader in whatever setting she wants them, and making them feel like they were there. Here the deserts of New Mexico are the backdrop, and though I’ve never in my life seen an adobe house, I feel like I’ve lived in one the last couple of days.
I’d neither recommend it nor deter anyone from this one; the exposition is a challenge, but if that slow build isn’t a deterrent, the story is one of her more complicated and compelling ones.
I read this for the Romantic Suspense square (which is on my card is the Psych square that’s been flipped), for Halloween Bingo 2020.