Patrick Gallagher's Widow by Cheryl Reavis
The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Silhouette Special Edition #627, 1990, Out of Print, Not Available Digitally.
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Reavis is one of those rare authors who has both historical and contemporary books in my keeper stash. This particular book won the RITA award in 1991 in the Best Long Contemporary Series Romance category, which besides the fact that I was glomming Reavis books in general, was another reason I added it to the ol' TBR.
The Review: First, 1990 was 23 years ago. Second, that depresses the hell out of me. Third, going in I fully expected to find aspects of this story that hadn't aged well. I mean, 23 years is a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. So imagine my surprise to discover, outside of some fashion and music references, that this story holds up extremely well. And it's pretty dang good even with all 23 years showing on that epic Old School cover.
Johnson Garth is the cop who caught the Patrick Gallagher case. Gallagher, also a cop, died in the line of duty. Garth caught the kid who shot him, and should be happy about that. But he's not. The whole thing was just too....tidy. He also doesn't trust Hugh Gallagher, another cop, the grieving brother, whom Garth has a long, colorful history with. Hugh doesn't want Garth bothering Patrick's widow, Jenna, and naturally Garth can't let that go. So he starts sniffing around the widow Gallagher, hoping to ferret out the truth. Instead, he ends up falling in love with her.
Really, that pretty well covers the basics. It's a deceptively simple set-up for a story that is actually anything but. Reavis has that ability that all really good category writers do - taking a simple enough sounding idea, acknowledging the word count restrictions in category, and yet having that ability to create rich, complex drama for her equally rich and well-drawn characters. Not only did she outdo herself with Garth and Jenna, I'm pretty damn impressed that RWA (an organization folks like to throw stones at - a lot) awarded this book a RITA. Reavis avoids the easy route, challenging her characters and her readers. Yeah, this is 23 years old now, but it's still a remarkably fresh story in a lot of ways.
For one thing? Jenna loved her husband. They were having some issues at the time of his death, but she loved him. Garth grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, loved a girl from the neighborhood, and she died a violent death. He loved her, and I loved that the author doesn't make excuses for that. She acknowledges the fact that it is OK for her hero and heroine to have loved other people before. That doesn't mean they'll be incapable of finding love again and the author knows her readers are smart enough to know this. She doesn't tear down Patrick or Mary. They were who they were, they were loved, they died tragically. And it's OK that the two people most affected by their deaths would find each other and move on.
I loved that Jenna knows the realities of being a cop's wife and that she's bristling with the responsibilities of her widowhood and the perceptions that go with it. Her husband died a hero, which means everyone from her in-laws to the general public wants a piece of her. Everyone has expectations on how, as a widow, she should behave and what she should feel. There have been countless widows in Romance Novel Land over the years, but very few books that address what it is to actually BE a widow. Reavis addresses it here. In a 23 year old book.
The romance is solid and heart-wrenching, and the mystery of Patrick Gallagher's death is suitably drawn and compelling. However, that's not to say this book doesn't have issues. It's set in New York City, but there were times that the city is portrayed in a vague sort of way. Also, a few of the secondary characters (Garth's mother, a surrogate father figure, an old-beyond-his-years child at the Catholic school where Jenna is a substitute teacher....) are more caricatures than anything else. Luckily they're mostly relegated to background noise, and the real meat-and-potatoes secondary characters (Garth's new partner for example) are better drawn.
I also wasn't entirely sure how it was that Jenna and Garth fell in love. I got the lust part OK. Jenna is lonely (and horny!), and despite loving her husband, isn't ready to commit herself to perpetual widowhood. Garth is haunted and wounded, with a protective streak a mile wide. I get that they're hot for each other, just not sure what makes them fall in love with each other outside of horny loneliness and protective instincts. But you know what? They say all the right things, and struggle with all the emotional baggage that people like this should be struggling with, and better still? The author doesn't make the ending easy. They don't blissfully fall into bed proclaiming their undying love once the Bad Guys are caught. They struggle with what they want and how they feel for each other - and I appreciated that.
It's not my favorite of Reavis' work, and I don't think it will make my keeper shelf, but it's still a really good book - even with the added years. Some contemporary stories aren't meant to stand the test of time. This is one that does. Only a few minor tweaks and this is a story that could have leapt from the author's computer keyboard just last week. It looks like it's fairly easy to come by used, but here's hoping Harlequin and Reavis can get on the same page and make this one part of the digitized "Harlequin Treasury" program. This is a book that deserves to see the light of day again.
Final Grade = B+