Boy howdy, does Robyn Carr's newest novel ever start with a bang. It's a literal bang - a bomb explodes in far-off Iraq, the effects of which reverberate all the way to little Virgin River, California. When hometown hero Rick Sudder returns from war with a prosthetic leg and a barely-concealed rage, his friends and family hardly no how to handle him. The carefree boy they once knew is long gone. In his place stands a man haunted by war, destroyed by grief, and boiling with anger. A man who pushes away anyone who tries to get close to him. Neither Jack, who loves Rick like a son, nor Liz, who's stood by him through thick and thin, can get through to him. Will the Rick they know and love ever re-surface? Or has he left his true self in Iraq along with his leg?
Paradise Valley, the seventh novel in Carr's Virgin River series, focuses mostly on Rick. But, he's not the only resident carrying a load of trouble. There's Cameron Michaels, the local pediatrician, who's desperate to be a part of Abby's life. After all, she is carrying his children. If only she weren't still reeling from her ex-husband's betrayal. With no reason to trust, can Abby ever let the gentle Cam into her life? Walt Booth isn't faring so well in the romance department either. Muriel's jetsetting off to Montana to film a new movie. Is Walt an idiot for thinking a Hollywood starlet (even an aging one) would ever trade the glitz of Hollywood for the country? Is he fooling himself that she could love a dusty old general when she's hobnobbing with the likes of Jack Nicholson? Most intringuing is the appearance of one of Carr's most mysterious characters - old Shady Brady. Just what in the world is he doing in town? And why is he so interested in the likes of one Rick Sudder? The good folk of Virgin River have dealt with their share of drama - How will things play out this time?
Rick's struggle adds new intensity to the V.R. story, threatening the HEA (Happily Ever After) that has become Carr's trademark. One thing, however, remains the same: her setting and characters exude such charm that it's impossible not to care about them. Okay, okay, the women not so much (with the exception of Mel and Muriel, the V.R. girls are all kind of interchangeable), but the men ... boy howdy! Mel describes them best:
Where do you find men like these? Men who will do absolutely whatever it takes to help people, no matter what? She'd chosen this profession; she'd chosen to be up to her shoulders in whatever medical problem or mess came her way. She'd been bled on, crapped on, peed on, puked on and it never discouraged her from providing whatever was needed medically. But Jack was just Jack. Preacher, a cook! They weren't nurses, doctors or medics, and yet she couldn't count the times they jumped in and helped, even if it left them covered with blood or amniotic fluid or -- this time -- the wet accident of a woman he barely knew who was in a traumatic, life-threatening situation.
They were made of gold. (140)
As much as I adore the steady, predictable men of V.R., I have to say that I'm delighted by Shady Brady's appearance in Paradise Valley. He adds an element of mystery, shaking up a storyline that could have otherwise fizzled with predictability. Instead, he stars in one of the funniest, most surprising scenes I've ever encountered in a Carr book. He may have a dangerous edge, but ole Shady Brady might just be one of my favorite characters yet.
The amputee angle, coupled with Shady Brady's surprise appearance, makes Paradise Valley an intense, exciting new chapter in the V.R. story. It's charming, it's engrossing, it's everything I love about this series - and more. Keep 'em coming, Robyn, 'cause this series just keeps getting better and better.
If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language and sexual content