Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels (Harlequin Intrigue)

Back of the Book Blurb: 
After Hudson Savage betrayed her, Dana Cardwell hoped never to lay eyes on the seductive cowboy again. Until a bunch of old bones showed up on her family ranch. Suddenly her former lover was back in her life in a big way-to investigate a decades-old crime.
Five years ago, Hud left town with a heart load of regrets. But now, as acting interim marshal, he had a job to do. And this time he wasn't walking away. Because now Dana's life was on the line-as the unsuspecting target of a killer who still walked the canyon. Hud would do whatever it took to keep Dana close. Even if it meant risking his own heart for a second chance for both of them..

Review:   This is the 4th consecutive Harlequin Intrigue book review I've written, and I promise to move on to something different next!   Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch was a 2009 publication and is currently being offered for free as an ebook on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  And free is good.  It's the shortest of the 4 I've read, coming in at a brief 160 pages. And I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with it.  The love part is for the well-crafted mystery, the confident writing style that moves along at a rapid pace and kept me reading to find out who committed the crimes.  The hate part was because of the characters - I disliked every single one of them.  Even the hero and heroine.  They were unsympathetic, acted in extreme and unbelievable ways, and I was happy to be have them out of my head when the book ended.
As the story opens, Dana is ignoring her 31st birthday and having a bad day.  A skeleton has been discovered at the bottom of an abandoned well on her beloved ranch (which her nasty siblings are forcing her to sell), and Hud Savage (his father's name is Brick Savage,and  if you can read that without snickering you're a better person than me) has returned to town after a 5 year absence.  He was Dana's fiance and the love of her life, but she discovered him in bed with her older sister, and rather than screaming at each other and talking about it, Hud ran to Los Angeles for 5 years while Dana nursed her anger and hatred.  Dana also refused to confront her sister.  I know, I don't get that either.
As it turns out, Hud and Dana had a slightly creepy history.  Early in the story Hud recalls how Dana sent him love letters when he went to college, and when I read (and reread to doublecheck my math!) that she is 5 years younger, I was definitely icked out by a 13 y/o sending love letters to an 18 y/o.  A couple pages later Dana recalls how Hud first kissed her on her 16th birthday, making him 21 at the time.  If I made a mistake in their age difference and history I apologize, but otherwise...ick.  So apparently after being together about 10 years, this awful thing happens, Hud has no memory of waking up in Dana's sister's bed, Dana won't talk to anyone, and Hud runs away.
For the next 105 pages (of a 160 page book!) Dana is alternately furious or a sobbing emotional wreck as Hud becomes a part of her life again as part of the murder investigation.  He of course still loves her and wants her back, but Dana has apparently not grown or matured at all in the last 5 years, and is still acting like Hud's betrayal was last night.  Lest you think that this dysfunctional relationship is special, let's count the others:  Hud has not spoken to his father for 5 years, and his father is a philandering hound dog, Dana's sister Stacy was always jealous of Dana and got Hud in her bed to hurt Dana, their older brother Jordan is a violent, selfish jerk, and their other brother Clay is not really there, as a personality or character.  Oh, and their father was also a philandering hound dog.
So why did I keep reading?  Because while I found the characters annoying, pathetic, immature or just plain rotten, the mystery of the murdered woman was compelling, page-turning reading.  And at 160 pages I didn't want to quit.  The murder mystery was resolved, and in a satisfying manner.  The last couple pages after that were a forced happy ending - fathers reconciling with sons and daughters, Hud and Dana back together, and the ranch is saved. 
Overall a good mystery wrapped in a disappointing and awkward romance.  Love the cover, though!


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