Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
Selecting a novel to review this month was not easy, not because of a lack of excellent books, but because there were so many good ones to choose from. False Pretenses by Carol Thayne won out, but not without an argument with myself.
First I picked up Dean Hughes’ Midway to Heaven. I had heard good things about it, and I’ve long held Hughes’ near the top of my favorite authors list. It was exceptional, but I can’t review it without sounding more like a fan than a critic. Dangerous Games by Keith Morris was fascinating. His dragnet style and first person narrative was distracting to me at first, but his use of Church Security and a second chance at a Salt Lake City Olympics soon had me hooked. Foul Play by Betsy Brannon Green may be her best yet. Wrongly Accused by J. Michael Hunter is well-written and kept this reader on the edge of my seat. The epilogue could have been a lot tighter and less preachy though. Elisabeth, Passage of Promise appealed to me personally because it covers a period of history (1850’s) very near to a period I have been researching lately for a future book of my own (1840’s). This isn’t a fast moving story, the characters aren’t terribly realistic, and sometimes it’s more history than novel, but history buffs will love it. I did. Finding Paradise by Michele Ashman Bell was a strong contender and as much as I loved the book, which by the way is a wonderful romance, I’ve recently reviewed her children’s mid-reader Spyhunt and decided to give her novel a pass.
So why did I select False Pretenses? Because it jumps right in with a likable character and sets up some interesting questions in the first paragraph. Character development is strong throughout the entire book and Thayne introduces them in a way that sets each one apart as an individual. Readers do not have to backtrack to refresh their memories about just who a particular character is. There are no stock characters. In fact, I was reminded of William Faulkner’s habit of developing even his villains to the point where the reader understands their backgrounds and individual strengths and weaknesses.
Plot was a strong factor in my choice as well. Like most genre readers, I have little patience with novels that are primarily dependant on character or are entirely cerebral. I like action and False Pretenses has action. It opens with the unorthodox calling of a highly unorthodox leftover hippy, Sunny Day, to serve as Relief Society president in a tiny Montana Branch of the Church. Then it switches to a young man near Burley, Idaho, Sam Carson, who was introduced in an earlier novel and who is about to propose to the love of his life, but is concerned about his sister who has gone missing. Then the action explodes as we learn of the sister’s emotional stress that has led her to involvement with a polygamous cult, her sudden decision to bolt, and the stowaway teen bride who unexpectedly accompanies her. There are chases aplenty to keep the action moving and the fun really begins when the runaways end up at Sunny Day’s diner.
Romance played a part in my choice as well. Sam and Stacey’s romance is a little too mundane, but we already know they’re in love and headed for the altar from the start. I found myself worrying about him carrying around a ring in his jeans’ pocket for almost the entire length of the book. I’m surprised it didn’t go through the wash or get dropped on the ground when he reached for change. The scene when he does finally get around to a formal proposal is probably the most unrealistic scene in the book. The fun romance is the one that develops between Sunny Day and her widowed Branch President. She’s a vegetarian, chain-smoking, ex-hippy who has devoted her life to causes, primarily to those involving saving the earth. He’s a land-developing, lumber jack, who enjoys his steaks thick and rare. She quits smoking and he develops a taste for meatless stew while their differences fall one-by-one as they join ranks to serve their branch and save two scared and endangered runaways.
Setting is the next strong point found in False Pretenses. The reader can practically taste the southern Idaho dust and smell the fragrant Montana pines. She does an excellent job of painting realistic pictures around her characters whether its shabby trailers parked at the end of a hidden sagebrush gulch, a college dorm, auction stockyards, or an offbeat caf in an almost forgotten byway. Most importantly she does it without intruding the scenery over the storyline.
All-in-all False Pretenses is a well-told story. Good job, SisterThayne.