Dear Ms. Aiken,
Steeple Hill’s suspense line appears to be utilizing medical personnel who rarely get a chance in the spotlight. In a world filled with romance doctors and nurses, let’s hear it for the pharmacists (chemists to you British).
Stephanie Scott has worked hard to get where she is in life. Her ADD wasn’t diagnosed until she got to college (UNC- Chapel Hill. Yeah, Go Heels!). By structuring her life into a series of routines, she made it through pharmacy school then returned to her small, western North Carolina community to open her own retail pharmacy. Over five years, she’s built a thriving store, gained the trust of the community for her hard work and attention to detail and feels good about what she’s been able to give back in the form of her knowledge of drugs.
When she’s attacked one night as she closes up shop, Steph is horrified. But she still manages to keep the mugger from getting the store key. She can’t let the person get the potent narcotics or the materials needed to manufacture methamphetamine. A witness runs to her aid but since the attack was in a dark alley, there’s little that was seen and no evidence left.
Sheriff Hal Bensen hears the Loganton PD responding to the 911 call from the pharmacy. Though it’s stretching his jurisdiction for him to insert himself into the investigation, he does so anyway. He’s secretly had a crush on Steph since their grade school days and can’t make himself not help her. Especially when further things begin to happen and the police look as if they’re starting to suspect Steph might be involved in the break-ins and drug thefts. But with a hotly contested upcoming election for the county sheriff position, Hal’s got his hands full.
The whole situation is a nightmare for Steph. She doesn’t feel safe anywhere, the townspeople are eyeing her strangely and she’s losing money her overhead can’t afford. Plus there’s something, just beyond what she can remember, about the first attack that she feels would solve the mystery and get her life back on track. Can she prove to everyone that she isn’t selling to drug dealers? And is there a future for her with Hal?
I can certainly understand Steph’s desire to clear her name and get her pharmacy store back to normal. Owning your own business is hard enough without all the extra regulations and laws concerning drugs to deal with. She’s started a store from scratch and no one’s going to take that away from her.
In addition, Steph is furious that the mugger’s actions have taken away her feelings of security. Now she hesitates to be alone in her own house, listens for footsteps behind her and doubts the routines with which she controls her ADD.
It’s sad to watch human nature take over as the people of Loganton, who’ve trusted her and depended on her as their only pharmacist for five years, begin to suspect her. That Steph doesn’t lash out is, I think, a testament to her desire to help others and her Christian faith.
Loganton is portrayed as a nice little Southern mountain town. Thank you for not making it seem like everyone marries their first cousins, doesn’t have dental care or dresses like the late Minnie Pearl. Yet as a small town, gossip will spread quickly and everyone knows everyone and their business.
I was surprised that Hal continued to nose his way into the investigation even after it started getting around that he was romantically interested in Steph. Several people made comments about how she might be trying to use him to deflect suspicion from herself plus he needs to keep his reputation clean if he wants to be reelected as sheriff. I guess the fact that he won’t let the police officers do their job without his “help” speaks to the depth of his feelings for Steph and his desire for justice but he ought to know that law officers should recuse themselves from cases in which they’re involved.
I liked the gentle pace of Hal and Steph’s courtship. It wasn’t rushed, there was no inappropriately timed intimacy and I could believe these two were ready for their HEA. I would like to have learned more about how Hal ended up as a county sheriff after graduating from Princeton though.
The book was going well, I liked the characters, the plot was realistic so…why a C+, you ask? Well, something happens in the end that did a number on the grade. The dénouement had me gobsmacked with disbelief. Steph is a pharmacist. I know she would know that people who rob pharmacies are either 1) determined to get the drugs or 2) high on drugs or 3) both. That she would put herself into a dangerous situation after specifically being told not to by law enforcement is stupid.
No wait, it’s beyond stupid. Sure, she might prove that she wasn’t involved with the drug thefts but she might also end up dead. Dead is dead. Her grieving parents, friends and family could carve on her tombstone, “She was a good pharmacist” but she’d still be d-e-a-d. A neighbor of mine heard a story when she was a young pharmacist. A pharmacist was closing his store when two robbers came up behind him and forced him back inside. They took the cash and the narcotics. Then they dragged him outside and forced him down to the pavement. Feeling the muzzle of the gun against his skull, he listened to them debate whether or not they were going to blow his head off. After hearing this story – which, BTW made a tremendous impact on my friend – I can’t help but think Steph needs her head examined.
I guess other readers who don’t know pharmacists might applaud Steph for standing up to the danger that threatens her store. And up to a point, I do too. But for me, the good things about this book were marred too much by the TSTL actions Steph displays. Shame, really. C+