The House on Olive Street

Deep in the Valley by Robyn Carr
(Mira, $5.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-609-X
Dr. June Hudson is overworked, overstressed, underpaid, and her biological clock is ticking. With her physician father now mostly retired, June is the only doctor at the medical clinic in Grace Valley, California. As the sole doctor in the small town, June’s practice can take her anywhere in the county - yes, she makes house calls - and covers all medical specialties.

As June moves through her day, the reader is introduced to a sampling of the good folks of Grace Valley, including among others, her unconventional office staff, the Native American police chief who was her best friend in school, the local minister with an overactive libido, the withdrawn veteran and his horribly disfigured wife, a frightened young pregnant wife, an abused wife and family, and a legendary ghost.

Deciding that she is desperately in need of another doctor to share the workload, June she hires the handsome Dr. John Stone. She is impressed with John’s experience in obstetrics and with his enthusiasm for the variety of a small-town practice so she is dilatory in checking his references.

June is aware that marijuana is grown in outlying areas of the northern California county. Even though she strongly disapproves of the use of illegal substances, she tries to avoid contact with those who profit from it. Her friend Tom Toopeek, the local police chief, alerts her that some government raid against marijuana growers is in the offing so she’s not terribly surprised when two strangers, one a man with a bullet wound, show up late at night at the clinic.

June finds herself strongly attracted to one of the men, and the feelings appear to be mutual as he returns to see her again and again. But is Jim a DEA agent or one of the growers? To add to her concerns are the remarks of one of her patients that she doesn’t like the way John touches her. Is John hiding a past of sexual violation of his patients?

Writing a synopsis of the plot of Deep in the Valley is not an easy task. Rather than a featuring a single unified plot, the story is made up of a number of subplots of fairly equal importance that are woven throughout the book. There is a large cast of characters that are gradually introduced and developed over the course of the story. Occasionally I had some difficulty recalling the specific identity of a particular character because there were so many to keep straight.

The central figure that holds the subplots together is June. Readers encounter other characters through her interaction with them. Dedicated and compassionate, she is a ideal model of the modern physician. While other medical students may have their sights set on the financial success to be gained in medicine, June’s ambition was always to return to her hometown and work with her father in his clinic. Amazingly, this paragon is unaware that she is highly regarded by the good citizens of her community. Because the story’s success depends so greatly on her character, it’s unfortunate that June is a character a reader can admire and respect but not truly love.

I have enjoyed Robyn Carr’s novels in the past, particularly her historical romances. The Braeswood Tapestry is one of the books on my keepers shelf (although at this point it would be more accurate to call them keepers boxes). Recently she has moved away from romances towards what is generally termed “women’s fiction,” and Deep in the Valley continues this trend. While there is a romance thread in the book, the blurb on the back cover implies a lot more romance than there actually is. In fact, the romantic “hero” doesn’t even make his first appearance until more than 100 pages into the story and isn’t a major character. John and Tom Toopeek, neither of whom is the romantic hero, both play a larger part in the book.

This story might, however, be considered a romance of small-town life. Its portrayal of the bucolic lifestyle is more idealistic than realistic. Grace Valley is populated with a generous number of charming eccentrics, and the simple all-American life is simultaneously quaint and alive with drama. Larger towns would be lucky to have this much excitement on a regular basis. Some readers, however, may find the domestic violence thread to be too prominent in the story.

Robyn Carr is an author with a talent for creating believable characters. It’s the vivid portrayal of the multitude of characters that is the book’s strength. Readers who are searching for an enjoyable book and who won’t mind a minimalist romance may find Deep in the Valley just what they’re looking for.

--Lesley Dunlap

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