the second likely to end up as part of my "Best Of" for 2013. All this to preface saying I hope she'll still speak to me if she sees this review....
A Promise for the Baby is the third book in Jennifer Lohmann's trilogy about three siblings. The Milek kids grew up in a Polish-American enclave in Chicago, and what has been great fun about this series is how Lohmann has infused a lot of "small town" sensibilities in these books by setting her stories in a "neighborhood" of a "big city." The culture, the sights, the sounds, the food! It makes for such a really great concept. That being said, I felt the strength of Lohmann's first two books were really her dynamite heroines. Her heroes? Were OK blokes, but not as strongly drawn (in my opinion). So how would I like this last book featuring brother Karl Milek? Turns out I was fine with him. Oh the irony that I spent the entire novel feeling stabby towards the heroine.
From the time he was sixteen, Karl Milek has been tied to his clear sense of duty, justice and right vs. wrong. His older brother, father and uncle were all killed by a drunk driver. The driver had a history of DUIs, but he stayed on the payroll at his trucking company because somebody bribed a city official to overlook those transgressions. Needless to say Karl grew up to become a lawyer and now works as the Inspector General for Chicago. Basically it's Karl's job to ferret out corruption, which I mean - in Chicago? Karl is a busy guy. He's all work and no play, with one failed marriage already under his belt. So naturally his well-meaning, meddling secretary practically pushes him out the door to a conference in Las Vegas, where, when he's confronted by his past, Karl gets rip-roaring drunk in the hotel bar one night. He meets Vivien Yap in that bar, they get rip-roaring drunk together, get married, and oopsie, guess what? Vivien shows up in Chicago a few weeks later to tell Karl she's pregnant.
Vivien comes to Chicago not only to tell Karl about the baby, but also because she's out of options. She's been fired from her casino job and Dear Old Dad has cleaned out her bank account and anything remotely of value from her apartment. Basically Vivien drives across country and arrives on Karl's doorstep in a car running on gas fumes and $10 in her pocket. She's broker than broke. She may not know Karl all that well, but she knows enough to know he's a "fixer." She also knows that he won't kick her out on the streets - and our girl needs a place to live, time to find a job, and health insurance for her and the baby.
This story started out a little slow for me, mostly because it takes a while for the author to really delve into the characters. For the first several chapters I felt like I was reading about people I had no firm handle on. I knew Karl a little from the previous books, but since he's a stiff upper lip sort, he's not exactly forthcoming about, well, anything. And Vivien is a completely new arrival into this trilogy's universe.
But the character development gains some traction once Vivien's Big Secret is revealed. OK, this is good. I finally have a nice handle on the characters and am learning more about them as people. The problem is the more I learn, the more I loathe Vivien. The Big Secret involves her father and why she got fired from her casino job in Vegas. It's a doozy. And naturally Karl finds out the truth via a third party and he is none too pleased. I don't blame Karl one bit for being angry, especially 1) given his job and 2) having a deeply ingrained sense of duty. Is Karl uptight and have a stick shoved up his ass? Yes. However this doesn't make him wrong. And Vivien getting irritated with him when she's the one so clearly in the wrong is just annoying as all get out. The worst of it is that Karl then spends the rest of the story having to 1) work through his issues and 2) gets treated like a villain even though his wife and her idiot father are the screw-ups.
That's the real problem - Vivien's Dear Old Dad, who is piss-poor con man. Vivien has spent her entire childhood constantly moving around because Daddy needs to clear out when his schemes blow up in his face. This is a guy who blew through her college fund, but it's OK because she's such a resourceful girl and she'll find some other way to pay for school. This is a guy who robs his own daughter blind and skips out of Vegas - leaving her with nothing. No job (thanks to him), no hope of ever finding another job in Vegas, no money, and nothing left for her to even pawn/sell. Yet this asshole is still in her life because he was a single father and "did the best he could" and it's wasn't "all bad," Vivien has some "good memories." And naturally Daddy comes sniffing around her again as soon as he needs something from her - ie. money. And well she just can't say no to him! And golly gee, he deserves the chance to know his grandchild!
Where is a shotgun when you need one?
Maybe I'm cold-hearted but if my father did half the stuff Vivien's Dad did to her? It would go like this:
Dear Dad. Leave me alone. Stop contacting me. I've filed a police report about the money and personal possessions you stole from me. There's now a warrant out for your arrest, so I'd lay low if I were you. Oh, and here's a restraining order. Go to hell. Sincerely, Me.
I WOULD NOT WANT THIS LEECH ANYWHERE NEAR ME LET ALONE MY INNOCENT CHILD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So the lesson here is that Karl is the "bad guy" for being a judgmental prick (which he is, but it doesn't necessarily make him wrong). Vivien's Dad gets a big check and the opportunity to keep having a relationship (and I use the term loosely since relationship to this man = what can you do for me) with his daughter and his future grandchild.
Yes, it would be a cryin' shame if that baby didn't get to know this asshole. Boo-frickin'-hoo.
Seriously, it left me so very irritated. I didn't see Karl as a bad guy no matter how unreasonable Vivien thought he was being. You know why he doesn't trust you cupcake? Look at your bloody track record. I wouldn't trust you as far as I can throw a rock.
And I throw like a girl.
Final Grade = D