Perhaps my first problem with Cait London’s new contemporary romance arose out of misplaced expectations. I noted the title -- Sleepless in Montana -- and assumed I was about to begin a lighthearted romantic comedy. A look at the cover -- a bright green and shocking pink combination with a back view of blue-jeaned cowboy holding a woman with pink high heels -- and my original view of the book was simply
confirmed. I guess I should have read the back blurb before I started the book; here we find the words “hard and haunted,” and “chip on his shoulder.”
But I skipped the back blurb this time (I often do) and so I was rather surprised to discover that I was reading a book about a highly dysfunctional family with three wounded heroes, two wounded heroines, two wounded parents, and an insane stalker/serial killer waiting in the wings. I’m not sure I ever recovered from the shock.
As the book opens, Hogan Kodiak and his two brothers have slipped away from their harsh father, Ben, for a farewell. Hogan is about to leave the Bar K ranch and pursue his dream of a career as an artist in Paris. He is twenty-one. His half-brother Aaron and his adopted brother Mitch are still in their teens. Hogan is Ben’s oldest son, product of a
liaison with a woman who must have been part Native American, given his dark coloring. But taciturn Ben has never told Hogan anything about his mother. Aaron is the son of Ben’s marriage to Dinah, a marriage that ended because of Ben’s bitterness at losing his leg in an accident. Mitch is a kid that Ben picked up off the streets of Chicago and brought back to the ranch. The Kodiak boys’ farewell get together is rudely interrupted when “a girl’s terrified scream pierced the sweet Montana night air.”
Nineteen years later, Hogan is back in Montana. He has achieved remarkable success as a jewelry designer, but his bitterness at his father continues to burn. He has bought a neighboring ranch, seeking some kind of peace. But his quest for peace is shattered with the arrival of Jemma Delaney.
Jemma is his half-sister Carley’s best friend. She spent her summers at the Bar K with the Kodiaks and she was there nineteen years ago when thirteen-year-old Carley was brutally attacked. She has come to tell Hogan that Carley is still being stalked by the man who almost raped her all those years ago. The threats are mounting. So Jemma has a plan. (Jemma always has a plan.) Carley will be safest if she has her family to protect her, so Ben will pretend to be dying and to want his family with him. Dinah and Carley will come to Montana from Seattle; Aaron will put his New York career as a stock broker on hold; Mitch will come home from Chicago where he is a social worker. And they will flush out the evil creature who has made Carley’s life a living hell.
Jemma, the daughter of irresponsible itinerant workers, has adopted the Kodiak family and is determined to solve all of their festering problems. She will bring Carley out of her shell, reunite Dinah and Ben, and reconcile Ben with his sons. Jemma is a larger than life character, always on the go, always with a plan, always trying to overcome the deep insecurities she developed in her impoverished youth.
Hogan is carrying a whole lot of bitterness towards his father, and Jemma knows that until he and Ben can get beyond the mistakes of the past, the family will never be whole. What she doesn’t expect any more than Hogan does is that the two of them will become involved in a passionate affair and that she will be the one who brings Hogan out of
his hard shell.
I am still pondering why Sleepless in Montana didn’t really work for me. It strikes me that there is a frenetic character to the story with simply too much going on and too many characters and relationships to sort out. While Hogan’s and Jemma’s romance is the central love story, there is also Ben’s relationship with Dinah, Mitch’s
relationship with Carley, Aaron’s relationship with Savanna, the daughter of Ben’s housekeeper. And then there ias the stalker hovering around with his insane fixation on Carley. (I did figure out who the villain was pretty fast.)
I have nothing against complex stories, but sometimes an author tries to pack too much into a single book. This may well be the problem with Sleepless in Montana. I never really got involved with any of the characters or their stories. So I can’t really recommend the book. Which is too bad because Jemma in particular is a very unusual and very interesting heroine. Others might find Sleepless in Montana more
enjoyable, as long as they realize from the outset that this is not the light tale the title might suggest.