Castle Rock. Carolyn Hart. Seventh Street Books, Amherst, NY. Feb. 11, 2014. 174 pages. Paper ISBN: 978-1-61614-873-7 $13.95. Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61614-874-4. $9.99.
Castle Rock is one of my favorites of the early novels being reissued by Seventh Street in their Carolyn Hart Classics series. Serena Mallory, the ward of rancher Dan McIntyre, in her early twenties now, is helping Dan run the New Mexico ranch. When her parents were killed, he had taken her in. She has grown up with his niece and nephew, Julie and Will. Jed Shelton is a ranch hand who had turned up two months earlier when his car broke down. He was then hired.
Early in the novel Serena suspects that something is not right at Castle Rock Ranch. After the summer guests arrive, as well as Julie and her new husband, Peter, more things go wrong. Uncle Dan dies after an accident on horseback, and then more accidents occur, which suggests that someone is trying to get rid of Serena, who is named ranch manager in Dan’s will, as well as his grandson Danny, who ultimately inherits the ranch when he comes of age.
Serena is drawn to Jed, but Julie’s flirtation with him seems to be working too well. Serena wants to trust him, but she knows so little about him, and she’s afraid he’s responsible for the evil that is threatening the ranch and its people.
In good romantic suspense fashion we readers are teased with doubts about whether Serena and Jed will ever get together. We also wonder, along with Serena, whether Jed is behind the accidents, all of which could have led to death. Suspense builds even more when Danny disappears, and Serena sets out to find him during a horrific storm.
I like the determination in Serena to discover what’s going on and take care of Castle Rock and Danny. She infuriates Jed by risking herself as she does.
It’s a lovely tale of courage and grit, in which a young woman does what she feels she has to do, no matter the risk. The characters live on the page. The evil is felt, and the dangers are real. A working ranch that is also a dude ranch in the summer is well portrayed as well the New Mexico landscape near the Anasazi ruins. The story is simply and well-told, and we both worry for Serena and cheer her on.
Carolyn Hart is the author of 50 novels. Her 50th new novel - DEAD, WHITE AND BLUE, 23rd in the Death on Demand series – was published in May 2013.
Recent titles include DEATH COMES SILENTLY, 22nd in the Death on Demand series. In October 2013 she published GHOST GONE WILD, 4th in a series featuring the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous red-headed ghost who returns to earth to help someone in trouble.
LETTER FROM HOME, a stand alone novel set in Oklahoma, was published by Berkley in 2003. Gretchen Gilman is 13 in the summer of 1944 and working on the small town newspaper. Murder occurs on the street where she lives, changing her life forever. LETTER FROM HOME was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University Tulsa. Letter from Home won the Agatha for Best Mystery Novel of 2003 and was a New York Times notable book.
Hart was one of ten mystery authors featured at the National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington D.C. in 2003 and again in 2007. In March 2004 she received the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She has twice won the annual Oklahoma Book Award for best novel. In April 2004 she spoke at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on mysteries in American culture. She received the Ridley Pearson Award at Murder in Grove, Boise, Idaho, in 2005 for significant contributions to the mystery field. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic and the Amelia Award in May 2013.
Hart is a native of Oklahoma City, a Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a former president of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Authors Guild, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Crime Writers Association, the International Thrillers Association, and the American Crime Writers League. She taught professional writing in the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism 1982-85. She is the winner of three Agatha Awards for Best Novel, two Anthonys and two Macavitys.