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REVIEW: Deadly Homecoming by Barbara Phinney

Dear Ms. Phinney,

deadly-homecomingAfter some thought, I believe the reason I like these Steeple Hill suspense books is that there isn’t much gratuitous violence. Yes, bad things happen but it isn’t mapped out in GPS detail to make me queasy as I read. And most of the emphasis of the story is on the characters and not the POV of some sick, twisted soul. Yep, works for me.

Peta Donald never wanted to return to Northwind Island after she made her escape. She didn’t like it there and the people there didn’t like her either. So it’s with reluctance that she yields to her former cohort in crime’s entreaty to come back for his birthday celebration. She thinks a few days will be the max time she spends there then it’s back home to Toronto. Her fond hopes of fleeing quickly end when she discovers that Danny is dead and realizes the local police view her as the most likely suspect.

Lawson Mills has his own reasons for living on the island. Though the inhabitants are usually cold shouldered to outsiders, he’s made a place for himself over the course of the year he’s been there, searching for what might have happened to his family. Somehow their disappearance is linked to Danny and Danny’s crime connections. So when his prime source of information is found dead, Lawson decides he needs to stick with Peta and learn every thing she knows. But will their efforts to discover what’s really going on lead to their own deaths?

First off, I have to ask what’s with the blurb on the Harlequin website? What bride and groom are they talking about? Not any in this book, that’s for sure.

This is more of an amateur sleuth + cozy style mystery. Peta and Lawson’s work to solve the mystery of Danny’s murder and Lawson’s family is crossed with a story about an isolated small island with people who have long memories. Who killed Danny? What happened to Lawson’s family? What was Danny up to and why did he want Peta to come to the island?

Peta did do the things the islanders are mad at her for. Vandalism, mouthing off, drinking – she freely admits she wasn’t always nice and that she did stupid things. She obviously knew some rougher people as she was the one to introduce Danny to Gary with his mob connections. She’s mad at Danny for what she feels is Danny’s manipulation of her emotions and Christian need to make amends but she does genuinely mourn him as they had been friends at one time.

And as bad as the things Peta did were, she also didn’t have a ton of support from her family while growing up. Nor did anyone else on the island appear to try and take her in hand and redirect her energy and anger towards something positive. I thought the resolution between Peta and her family seemed realistic and about as good as it was ever going to get. There’s just too much water over the dam and hurt feelings in the past for total reconciliation. Ditto with the other islanders though the story end might eventually allow for forgiveness on all sides.

As I read the book, I got a good feel for the setting. The description of the island, the fog, the currents of the bay, the isolation, the sense of outsiders not being welcome, the rugged independence of the islanders all added up to a vivid read. I thought the police were depicted well. They’re professional, pursue all leads, are willing to listen to everyone and follow up on clues. Their suspicions of Peta are founded on solid evidence and not just because the plot demands it.

His grief drives Lawson to discover what happened and to find closure even though he feels that his family members are most probably dead. I never was quite sure what Lawson was actually doing while staying on the island. Some volunteer work with the local church maybe? I would think it would be hard for Lawson to stay in this area given what happened with his family. When faced with seeking revenge for them or staying to help keep Peta alive, I think he makes the correct choice.

I must admit that the middle part of the book got a little slow as the mystery of the WWII stuff was discovered, hashed out and discussed. It all does come together in the end though. All the clues are there and there’s no deus ex machina event that takes place to give us the final pieces of the puzzle.

Christian influence is very strong throughout the story. Peta has moved past what happened to her in her childhood but must forgive herself as well as ask forgiveness of what she did in the past on the island. I liked the part where Lawson reminded Peta that being a Christian doesn’t mean you should be a doormat. This after he nicely, but firmly, told off the waitress who refused to serve Peta in the local cafe.

The final explanations aren’t all delivered in a “villain spills all while holding the hero at gunpoint” fashion. Some of the details get revealed this way but mainly the final wrap up is pieced together based on evidence and confessions later on.

At first it does seem like Peta and Lawson are going to take their time with any possible attraction they might feel towards each other. Both initially seem hesitant to trust the other, especially Peta. But then it’s the usual whole hog very quickly. Is this required to write a story for the Steeple Hill line? Isn’t it enough for a couple to think they’re falling in love and end the book with them looking to the future rather than pigeonholing them straight in a HEA complete with talk of marriage?

Though some elements of the book didn’t work as well for me, more did than missed the mark. My luck with this line continues to hold and I’ll keep checking out the new releases each month. B-


This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Barbara Phinney
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 13:49:36

    Jayne, Thank you for the wonderful, honest review. I’m thrilled you are continuing to read our line.
    I’m sorry that the back blurb is a bit confusing.
    Here’s what happened. My first draft of the story had a bride and groom, and my editor wrote the back cover blurb to match it. Then the head editor asked for changes, such as removing the bride and just having Peta return to the island to help Danny celebrate his 30th birthday, and maybe even witness a bit to him. That version thus streamlined the plot a bit. So I made those changes.
    In the meantime, my editor retired, and I was assigned to a new one, who was kind enough to send me the back cover blurb. We immediately realized that the blurb on the back was for the old version, and quickly rewrote it. My editor then assured me that the art department had the new blurb in their file.
    But… that same department accidentally took the *old* blurb instead of the new one for the cover, and I didn’t discover it until this past week when I got my copies of the book.
    It’s an honest mistake and I don’t blame anyone for it. My editor was just as horrified when it happened as I was. But I feel bad that some readers may be upset by it. I hope that you don’t feel cheated. I’d hate for that to happen! I just loved that book, and all the ‘weather’ and ‘Old Sow’, (which really does exist) I still have my ‘map’ of that island on a white board in my office.

  2. Jayne
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 15:31:52

    No, no I don’t feel cheated. I just wondered if I’d lost my mind and completely forgotten a whole subplot. Nice to know I haven’t lost it yet.

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