Garden of Thorns, by Lillian Stewart Carl

>> Thursday, January 26, 2006

I first tried Lillian Stewart Carl because of a recommendation by someone who mentioned she wrote in the vein of Barbara Michaels. I started with Ashes to Ashes, the first in a trio of related books. That one was all right, so I read the next, Dust to Dust, which was a bit less all right but not a total waste. I read those in quick succession, but it's taken me a while to pick up the third, Garden of Thorns.

It might have been the cover that kept me away. Isn't it awful? The colours are horrible, and it's just wrong! The house in the background is supposed to be pinkish brick, not clapboard, and there's that person in her nightgown going around the garden. Plus, take a closer look at the image (see bigger picture here). Does the idiot woman have three arms?

Mark Owen and Hilary Chase, who met at the excavation of a medieval Scottish priory, get back together in Fort Worth, Texas. He's excavating an eerie turn of the century house owned by a prominent local family. She's working at an art gallery on medieval artifacts recovered from the Nazis by the same family. Mark's and Hilary's relationship is rocky enough without someone resorting to murder to keep a century's worth of skeletons locked in the old house's closets.
Oh, damn! Damn, damn, damn, damn, DAMN! I had to abandon this one at around the 100 page mark. The few other times I've abandoned books without finishing them it's been a relief, because it has always been because the whole book was a chore to read. Not here. I was quite liking it until then.

The Medieval art-related suspense plot was fascinating, so was what was shaping up to be the modern suspense subplot and I was even enjoying the relationship between the two leads. But there's a certain thing that's a huge hot button for me, and that's infidelity. I just cannot tolerate it; no way, no how. I'm sure some people will consider it naive or too rigid of me, but I simply don't believe any excuse is good enough. And darling Mark turned out to be the worst kind of dirty cheat. And to think I was liking him so well up until that point! I almost felt betrayed.

Up until then, I'd really enjoyed Hilary and Mark's relationship. The sexual element was especially interesting. Hilary was a survivor of rape, and she had quite a bit of trouble feeling comfortable and safe enough to actually have sex with anyone again, including Mark. I think most of the times I've read this type of thing in romance, once the guy knows what the woman's problem is, sex is effortless. Not here. It was taking quite a bit of time and effort, and I was really liking what the author was doing with it.

Until, that is, we got to the point in which I had to abandon the book. One of the other characters gives Mark a call because she's staying at a house which is reputed to be haunted and it's a stormy night and she's a bit nervous. And I never even suspected, because those two had been set up to be nice, honourable people. But at a certain point, the woman makes a pass and Mark just goes ahead and goes to bed with her. There just hadn't been any chemistry between them before that. I mean, Mark had though that she was good-looking, but in a distant, purely esthetic kind of way. And yet, first chance he gets, he's banging her. Why? The only reason given is that he's frustrated. Argh!!! The whole reasoning seems to be that men are somehow justified in cheating if their girlfriend isn't putting out, even if it's for a reason as justified as Hilary's, and that is just wrong! Plus, I skimmed ahead to the scene in which Hilary finds out, and the bastard actually trots out the "it's completely separate from us; it didn't mean anything" line!

I briefly considered pressing on, because, as I said, the rest of it was quite interesting enough. Even the writing style was going well. See, in the first two books I'd got the feeling that Carl's writing wasn't quite smooth. I especially disliked the way her British characters spoke, because it sounded so very self-consciously British. That is, I got the feeling it was just American-speak with a couple of words substituted for British slang, and it didn't feel right. Things were better here. It helped that this book is set in Texas, so there's only one British character, and while I found her speech just as problematic, there just wasn't that much of it in the book. Plus, I liked the overall style much better. I even though some of the descriptions and comparisons were quite neat. Keep in mind I'm no specialist in this area, so what I liked might seem laughable to you, but I really liked things like how she described an Eastern European character's speech, which was British upper class but with some Eastern European gutturals (like "paprika sprinkled on a crumpet"), or when Hilary is at the museum on her first day and she notices the carpet is very deep, and thinks of Sharon in her stilettos there "walking like a flamingo". Those gave me some very clear and striking images in my mind!

Anyway, sorry for the disgression. The book would have been interesting enough for me without the Mark/Hilary love interest part. Thing is, I know myself. I would have been gritting my teeth, completely pissed off, at every Mark/Hilary scene. I would have wanted every one of them to close with Hilary kicking Mark in the balls and taking of with another guy, and I didn't get the feeling anything like it was going to happen. I just don't need the aggravation, so it's a big, fat DNF for this one. My teeth will thank me for it, as they get to keep their enamel this way.


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