In this novel, fate seemingly unites individuals with intersecting pasts in California.
Retired 1st Sgt. Mike Jefferson heads to Charlie’s Restaurant to see the eponymous owner, who served in the Army with him. But Mike is immediately taken aback by waitress Nellie Johnson—the spitting image of Elizabeth Lawrence, whom he wed and lost decades ago. While overseas back then, he received notices of an annulment (she apparently was underage) and, shortly thereafter, her death. Now he’s convinced that Nellie is his daughter and that the news of Elizabeth’s demise was a fabrication. Nellie was a foundling and, having lost her husband two years prior, has only her young son, Jimmy. She’s currently dating George Hickman, whom Mike distrusts. Local Deputy Sheriff Sam Lacey is equally wary of “slick” George and also quite fond of Nellie. Indeed, George, who’s been pressuring Nellie to marry him, is cooking up something diabolical. He’s hoping to come into a considerable amount of wealth, a plan that involves a scrupulous attention to details. As he gets more desperate to acquire his riches, George soon sees certain people as obstacles, and getting rid of them may necessitate lethal means. Since the characters and backstory drive the plot, Martin diligently adds layers to the players. George’s sister, Caroline, for example, is more than a background character; she knows at least some of her brother’s scheme and, with her attraction to Sam, further complicates the tale’s romantic entanglements. The narrative, too, is believable, as some of the chance encounters among characters aren’t as coincidental as they initially appear. The author’s concise writing generates lucid passages and a brisk, progressively intense story, courtesy of an increasingly threatening George. But there is frequent repetition, as characters and the narrative too often cite Nellie’s red hair and “crystal-blue eyes.” In similar fashion, romantic couplings, while buoyant and appealing, happen too quickly and conveniently (including falling in love instantly).
A swiftly paced, entertaining melodrama with a fine cast of characters.