|Over a decade ago, I did a feature for TRR about our readers’ ten favorite/best books. We had hundreds of lists and figuring out the results took some time and a certain degree of math skill. When all the entries were tallied, Linda Howard’s Dream Man (1995) came in second. This did not surprise me as it was (and remains) one of my favorite contemporaries. Dream Man is a big, sprawling tale (341 pages of very small print) with a empath heroine, a typical hyper-male Howard hero, a really creepy villain, a cute secondary romance, and a big dollop of really hot sex. What more could a reader want?
Ice, on the other hand is a short (198 pages of really big print), simplistic story with relatively underdeveloped characters, a modicum of suspense, and predictable almost saccharine ending. This reader, at least, would have wanted a great deal more, especially if she had shelled out $22.00 for the book (which fortunately I didn’t, so I’m just bemused rather than mad.)
The slender plot of Ice centers on the dangers faced by the heroine and hero, both from evil villains and mother nature. Gabriel McQueen, son of the local sheriff of Wilson Creek, Maine, has just arrived home on Christmas leave to visit his parents and his seven-year old son. He is greeted with the news that a major ice storm is about to hit the area and before he can settle in, his father wants him to head out to the Helton home and make sure that Lolly Helton gets off the mountain safely. Gabe remembers Lolly well; she was the stuck-up mayor’s daughter whom he regularly teased and who gave as good as she got. But duty calls so off he goes.
Lolly learns about the oncoming ice storm while at the town grocery. No fool, Lolly accepts the grocer’s invitation to stay in town. She heads back up the mountain to pick up what she needs before the storm hits. Unfortunately, at the store, Lolly attracts the attention of two meth heads who were planning to rob the store for drug money. Instead they decide to follow Lolly home had steal from her.
Niki and Darwin are pretty nasty characters and they have guns. Only Niki’s jealousy saves Lolly from rape and only her promise to take them to the bank the next day to get money saves her life. No fool, Lolly makes plans to escape out the window of her room when Gabe appears. Since the villains have guns, Gabe and Lolly have no choice but to flee into the worsening weather, with the bad guys on their tail. Thus they must struggle against both the elements and the villains.
Howard has used the “hero and heroine struggle against nature” quite frequently. Likewise, the flight from dangerous villains is a familiar Howard plot device. These are sure ways to break down the inhibitions and barriers between the characters. That Lolly and Gabe have a history makes the story’s ending plausible.
But getting to that ending is the disappointing part of the book. It is all so predictable, so typical, so uninvolving. I have always admired writers of romantic suspense because they face such a daunting challenge: to maintain the reader’s interest when she knows that it’s all going to work out fine in the end. Dream Man and many, many other of Howards’ books met this challenge. Ice doesn’t.
Perhaps the brevity and simplistic nature of Ice reflect the trend away from complex books that has occurred over the past decade or so. But this latest Howard takes this development to a new high (or low.) There really isn’t enough here to justify charging or paying hardback prices. So if you want to read a good Howard romance, look for Dream Man or After the Night or Shades of Twilight or any of the complex and entertaining novels she wrote way back in the 20th century when she was very, very good.