Dear Ms. Howard:
I confess that I was at first taken aback by the length of this hardcover. I remember thinking unkind thoughts about this format when Janet Evanovich put out her first Christmas hardcover. Those have sold like crazy so I guess that readers are unfazed by the length of the story and the cost. After all, a story is a story, right?
When I started ICE, I began to get excited. A good category length Howard is worth hardcover pricing. I know that I would have paid quite a bit to read the Diamond Bay trilogy because it was so good. The first and second chapters read like a vintage category Howard romance and if it had kept in that vein, I would have been able to recommend this unreservedly. However, in keeping with your current writing voice, this book is far more focused on the action/suspense than it is on the characters and their relationship with each other.
The story takes place, mostly, over the space of one afternoon. There is an impending icestorm and military policeman, Gabriel, is home on leave. His father, the local sheriff, sends him to retrieve Lolly Helton from her mountain home because she won’t be able to survive up there if there is an icestorm. Gabriel is not thrilled about his father’s assignment. He wants to spend the afternoon with his son and he doesn’t really like Lolly. When they were in high school, Lolly always looked down her nose at him. Him! The highschool jock, son of the sheriff, friend to everyone; yet Lolly was always using her sharp tongue to cut him down. Still, Gabriel isn’t going to refuse to do what his father asks and heads up the mountain.
Lolly is preparing the family home for sale. Her parents have moved south and Lolly doesn’t live in the area. The local grocery store owner invites Lolly to stay with them over the icestrom and Lolly acquiesces. She knows the danger. She heads back up the mountain to get the supplies she needs. Her return to town is cut short when two meth addicts break into her home and prepare to rape, rob, and kill her.
It’s about the time when the meth addicts appear on the scene that the book kind of falls apart for me, maybe because I was hoping and anticipating Lolly and Gabriel interaction. no matter how hard you had Lolly explain everything to me, I was beset with questions regarding the plausibility of the suspense. For example, meth addict 1 is male and tries to rape Lolly only his girlfriend, Meth 2, comes in and starts to beat Meth 1 about the head. Why would Meth 1 think that he could get away with raping Lolly when his girlfriend was standing right there? Did he have a history of this? Was it simply to place Lolly in further sympathy with the reader? When they put Lolly in a room upstairs, it easily allows her to escape. Why not just tie her to a chair in the same room as the Meth heads? Or why wouldn’t they try to secure her in some fashion?
Now the answer may be that the Meth addicts are high and who can explain their actions, but they seemed capable of executing a plan (targeting Lolly in the grocery store and following her up the mountain, getting her to give them money, etc). It was no quick grab sort of thing.
Gabriel comes along and they try to escape together but they are found out by the bad guys so Lolly, Gabriel and the bad guys are running in the woods in the mountain during the icestorm. Only Gabriel and Lolly are affected by the cold. The Meth addicts seem impervious. Where Lolly is nearly hypothermic, Meth addict is able to plot, plan and carry out an effective threat to both Gabriel and Lolly’s lives.
The interaction between Gabriel and Lolly is quite brief and there is no real character development. The focus is squarely on the icestorm and the meth addicts and the danger the two pose for both Gabriel and Lolly. While the story ends with Gabriel and Lolly pursuing each other, I wasn’t convinced of much of anything at the end, least of all their ability to form a lasting connection. C