Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Road to Cardinal Valley by Earlene Fowler

It's been a while since I read Earlene Fowler's bestselling novel, The Saddlemaker's Wife. It came out in 2006, and, at the time, I thought it would be a standalone. Now, six years later, she picks up the story of Ruby McGavin, and throws readers a curve I didn't expect. The Road to Cardinal Valley is a perfect follow-up to the earlier story.

Ruby fell in love with some of the members of her late husband's family when she met them in Cardinal, California. And, Cole's brother, Lucas, fell hard for her. But, her own family life had been troubled, and when her brother, Nash, needed help in Nashville, she left Cardinal behind.

Now, Ruby brings Nash back to the only place that felt like home to her, hoping the community can heal her sick, alcoholic brother. Ruby's friends can see Nash is bringing trouble with him, but they keep quiet for her sake. It's only when Nash's drinking leads to a tragedy that Ruby knows she needs to reach out to their mother, a woman who left them years ago, throwing both of her children into the foster care system.

Once again, Fowler brings the people of this close-knit community to life. There's Lucas' Aunt Birch, who sees trouble coming, "Something wicked this way comes." There's his mother, a bitter woman who hates everyone. There's Lucas himself, at thirty-five still lost, looking for something, and he thinks it's Ruby. Ely Gray, an ex-con, recovering alcoholic, reformed troublemaker, is a friend to Lucas and Ruby, the confidante they both need. This is the community of friends that Ruby returns to, hoping they'll help heal her brother, as they helped her heal from the loss of the husband she barely knew. "The possibility of making Cardinal a real home, a place where she might live out her years, die among people who knew her name, was a desire so strong she was certain the world could see it like an actual mark on her forehead."

Fowler excels at creating realistic characters with all their flaws and fights and secret histories. And, she shows how people try to hide those secrets, even from themselves. Ruby was only in Cardinal for three weeks in the earlier book. She feared the people in town didn't really know her. "The woman in their imagination was likely not someone who came with the unruly baggage of a runaway mother, an uninvolved father and an alcoholic brother." Fowler beautifully captures the pain of a woman caught up in her family's history, tragedy, and alcoholism.

Earlene Fowler admits she never set out to write mysteries. Her mysteries are really stories of relationships and families. The Road to Cardinal Valley isn't in her mystery series. It's a novel that allows her to explore families, their power to hurt us, and change us. It's a thoughtful, emotional story of a young woman, struggling to be strong while agonizing over her family history and problems. And, it's a powerful story of redemption, the ability of people to change. Not everyone will, or is willing to change, but sometimes kindness and love will make a difference. Anyone who read The Saddlemaker's Wife will welcome the lives that lead to The Road to Cardinal Valley.

Earlene Fowler's websitre is

The Road to Cardinal Valley by Earlene Fowler. Berkley Prime Crime. 2012. ISBN 9780425252840 (hardcover), 291p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


Karen C said...

Sounds like an amazing story - I'm intrigued!

Lesa said...

It is, Karen. You might want to start with The Saddlemaker's Wife, though.