Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Barbara Warren's The Gathering Storm ~ Reviewed

The Gathering Storm
Barbara Warren
Publisher: Jireh
ISBN: 1893995275

When Stephanie Walker’s estranged father shows up asking for her help, she knows she’s in for trouble. She just doesn’t figure she’ll end up suspected of murder.

Marty Walker has always been a charming trouble-maker, from the time he left Stephanie and her mother for a famous country music singer and life on the road. He’s had little to do with Stephanie since she was a child. But now he says he’s in danger from a member of his new family. He doesn’t explain further, just says he needs her to come stay at his Ozark lodge and help “watch his back.”

That’s the last thing Stephanie intends to do. She’s never forgiven her father for his desertion, and she has refused to get to know his new wife and family. However, when Marty leaves, she discovers he’s stolen a valuable necklace from her and left a note saying she’ll have to come to the lodge to retrieve it. Furious, Stephanie storms up to the lodge—and naturally finds Marty dead in his room, murdered. I say “naturally,” because this scene seemed a little too familiar. The heroine just happens to find the corpse, is found standing over him, covered with blood, and becomes the chief suspect. Even though I liked the characters, I was afraid the story might be a little too predictable.

Fortunately, from that point the story develops a number of ingenious twists and turns. The setting provides an interesting world for the mystery to play out in—a rustic lodge in the scenic Ozarks. Monica Harrington, the country music singer who lured Marty away from Stephanie’s mother, owns the estate, and a number of her family live there, as well, including her son and grandchild. Her daughter-in-law has been missing for some time, which of course figures prominently into the current murder mystery—although not in the way I originally expected.

Even more interesting than the murder mystery are the relationships in The Gathering Storm. The interactions between Stephanie and Monica are highly charged and believable. Monica is a complex character—a professing Christian, and a woman who wants to receive Stephanie’s forgiveness and build a relationship with her. But Monica is also strong-willed, easily angered, and a little uncomfortable with taking the blame for Stephanie’s growing up without her father. Because of this early abandonment, Stephanie has tremendous difficulty trusting others, especially men—and God. This proves a double problem for her when she finds herself falling for the Lodge’s attractive groundskeeper, a strong Christian who wants her to love him and the Lord.

With its lodge full of sinister family members, any one of whom may have “done the deed,” The Gathering Storm is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel. It should provide a satisfying read for cozy mystery fans, especially those who like a little romance mixed in.

Reviewed by Robin Johns Grant

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