Lulu, $11.95, ISBN 1-4116-8693-4
Contemporary Romance, 2006
Harry E Gilleland Jr’s White Lightning Road is his first self-published contemporary romance and it is actually two stories in one. The first longer story features Jennifer James and the second shorter story features her good friend Sally Jeffers.
In the first story, Jennifer James has lost her mother some ten days before this story begins and now she has inherited her late parents’ home in Baton Rouge. Her neighbor is Michael Garrott, who looks like someone who is trying a little too hard to be a Robert James Waller hero in terms of physical appearance, and he wants Jenny to sell the house and the land it is built on to him. Years ago, Michael lost his wife and kiddie to a drunk driver and when the driver showed up dead later, people say that Michael shot that man. Nobody has evidence, et cetera, but everyone knows he did it, and therefore there are no shortage of people willing to warn Jenny about her neighbor. When Jenny’s dog Maxx goes missing and is later found with its four paws all cocked up towards the sky, she suspects that Michael is behind this heinous deed.
I’m always willing to give a fellow retiree from the scientific academia some support but I must honestly point out that this story has a problem. This romance-cum-small town mystery sees our heroine falling for the man next door that she still distrusts in a way. However, Mr Gilleland doesn’t quite succeed in presenting Jennifer James’ feelings in a convincing manner. Jenny seems so ready to jump to the worst conclusions about Michael at the drop of a hat that she doesn’t come off very well if the author wants Jenny to be a reasonable character. She hops straight from trust to mistrust and back again as if her brain works like a see-saw. It is as if I can see Mr Gilleland’s puppet strings attached to her joints – it is not a really good thing if an author’s characters start to come off like awkward plot devices doing and thinking things in a forced and unnatural manner if you ask me.
The second story has a less dramatic plot: our single mother Sally has moved to a new job and hopefully a new life. She has to make sure that her ex-husband won’t have any excuse to get the courts to grant him the full custody of their son, so falling in an affair with a man eight years younger than her isn’t what she has planned to do. Too bad his mother is a complete shrew from hell. This story gets mired deeper into daytime soap territory when sexual harassment hits Sally in the workplace. Luckily for her, she will find a nice handsome private investigator named Ken who will help her get back at the nasty boss and maybe even find love while she’s at it.
This story has a rocky start with the melodramatic younger man thing but thankfully the author doesn’t linger too long on the overblown matter. However, this story suffers from cartoonish bad guys that are too nasty to be believable.
White Lightning Road is a readable story but its characters often behave in such a stilted manner. Character behaviors often come off as contrived for the sake of creating conflict rather than believable under given circumstances. Very rough around the edges indeed, this book is like very dry crackers. It will be adequate as something to read to pass the time but it does leave me wanting for something more when I’m done with it.