by Ceri Hebert, contemporary (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-548-9
Ceri Hebert's Where One Road Leads has a familiar storyline. I'm sure you have read a book with such a storyline: Krista Faye, a successful photojournalist, is finally coming home to Quail Ridge, New Hampshire, after staying away for fifteen years to settle some loose ends that arise after the death of her mother. She's bringing along her dog, Gus. She didn't attend her mother's funeral so the folks, who didn't take to her much previously, don't need much prodding to think the worst of her. And waiting at home is the man from her past, Matt Burgess. You can tell where this story is heading towards, I'm sure. A subplot about someone trying to kill Krista while she's in town spices things up. Conveniently enough, Matt is a cop.
However, there is more than meets the eye here. Krista left Quail Ridge because she had to spend time in prison. When she was released, she never came back. What happened was that she was said to be driving under the influence fifteen years ago when she picked her boyfriend and his buddy from a party, and the resulting accident caused Krista to miscarry the child she was carrying at that moment as well as resulted with the deaths of a few people, including her best friend Liz and her boyfriend Eddie, who happened to be Matt's younger brother. And Matt was the first cop to reach the scene of the accident. "Oh boy" doesn't cover the situation, I tell you. There was more behind the accident that it seemed, but because Krista happened to be behind the wheel that night, she was deemed guilty by everyone in Quail Ridge, including Matt, even before she was tried and found guilty.
I like Krista. She's a fascinating character. Her career has a photojournalist took over all the world where she captured scenes of people in all kinds of misery, therefore she often feels that she is some kind of bystander watching the world around her. This time around, she is determined to stay in Quail Ridge and face her past because she's tired of running away from it. Meanwhile, Matt is the complete opposite. Unlike Krista who has been fleeing from the past, he lives in it 24/7. His fiancée left him because the accident turned him into a very sober person who takes things too seriously and is therefore a difficult person to be in a relationship with.
I give Krista credit for being a brave woman to return to Quail Ridge because I don't think I will ever have the guts to face her past like she does here. I have to Ms Hebert plenty of credit too because the attraction between Krista and Matt manage to come off as very convincing despite the odds of that ever happening. These two characters are mature and sensible, if damaged, characters, and the way they connect, gradually but surely, makes a most heartwarming read. Ms Hebert allows her characters to behave like intelligent and reasonable adults who learn to live again with each other and as a result, the romance feels satisfyingly real and solid.
The biggest problem with this story is the mystery subplot which ends up being a convenient plot device to get Krista accepted by the people of the town while turning the villain into a cartoon character. While Ms Hebert on one hand presents the situation between Krista and the people of Quail Ridge as, appropriately enough, one with no easy solutions, the author nonetheless gives Krista an easy solution by letting the villain be such a cardboard bad guy that he becomes the convenient fall guy for everything that is wrong with Krista's life. This feels like a cop-out on Ms Hebert's part to me.
Nonetheless, Where One Road Leads is a most enjoyable heartwarming story that hits all the right spots with me. I appreciate that, for the most part, Ms Hebert doesn't make it easy on herself and her characters. This story is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow because it can be heartbreaking while at other moments it makes me sigh and go, "Awwww!" After all that is said and done, I can only say that this one leads me to a very nice place indeed.
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