Dinah McCall/Sharon Sala made a name for herself writing intense, emotional romances. Unfortunately for her, most contemporary romances fall under one of two categories these days: screwball comedy or romantic suspense. I don’t think she can be frivolous enough to write the former, so for now she’s stuck doing the latter. White Mountain, her latest release, is neither very suspenseful nor very romantic, but it moves quickly and is easily digestible.
Isabella Abbott has barely started to cope with the sudden death of her beloved father when she learns more tragic news. Frank Walton, one of her six honorary “uncles,” has been found murdered in Brighton Beach, New York, far from their home in Braden, Montana. Isabella never knew her mother, who died in childbirth, but her father’s best friends all contributed to her upbringing while they helped him run his fertility clinic. Now, without her father’s guidance, Isabella feels adrift and alone. When Jack Dolan, a handsome Southerner who claims to be a writer, appears at Abbott House to do research, she is comforted by his presence, but wary as well.
With good reason, it turns out. Jack is an FBI agent who has been sent to Montana to discover why Frank Walton’s fingerprints match those of a Russian scientist who allegedly died in a plane crash thirty years ago. When Jack discovers that Walton’s murderer may be en route to Montana as well, the stakes get even higher. Jack is taken with Isabella from the moment he meets her, but he can’t tell her the truth about his occupation. Neither can he tell her that he suspects that her kindly old uncles may be harboring a dangerous secret that could affect millions of lives.
Dinah McCall might consider enrolling in Romantic Suspense 101 class, because she’s a little vague regarding the procedural details of a Bureau investigation. The plot contains some intriguing concepts, but Jack Dolan doesn’t exhibit any characteristics of a real FBI agent. He never seems to do any proactive investigation and his skill set doesn’t appear to be very complex, although he is rather useful when face-to-face with the bad guy. He’s a decent enough romance hero, strong and protective of Isabella, but it’s hard to understand why he is so respected in his field.
I’ve found many of McCall’s heroines to be too fragile for my liking, and Isabella doesn’t do much to change my mind. The book’s mantra is “Protect Isabella from the truth,” which renders her far too passive. Although she stands up to the villain at the book’s climax, she spends much of the book crying in Jack’s arms, and she still needs him to rescue her in the end. Their romance is sweet and fairly standard. And while Jack (and the reader) finally learns the whole truth about the secret of Abbott House, Isabella remains thoroughly in the dark even at the happily-ever-after.
I figured out the book’s mystery within the first hundred pages, but kept reading anyway just to see how McCall would tie the various plot threads together. The ending was just creepy enough to make me feel that I hadn’t wasted my time. If you require a high volume of suspense novels, White Mountain will probably make an adequate addition to your diet, but don’t look for three-dimensional characters or crafty plot twists. When the romance suspense craze ends, I hope McCall moves on to something that better suits her talents.