On the Edge of the Woods

On Winding Hill Road

 
The Inn at Half Moon Bay
by Diane Tyrrel
(Berkley Sensation, $14.00, PG) ISBN 0-425-21165-7
****
The Inn at Half Moon Bay is a contemporary Gothic romance, set on the California coast. In this case. “contemporary” translates to “updated”, sparing the reader the annoyance of a boring, virginal heroine with no common sense. Instead, our heroine is a woman in her late twenties with some experience, and some smarts.

Kelly Redvers, having ended a long-term relationship a year earlier, decides to fulfill her dream of running an inn. She comes to the Magic Mermaid Inn on Half Moon Bay, an hour or so from San Francisco, and while the property doesn’t immediately attract her, she finds it more and more alluring the longer she visits. The elderly owners, Addie and Bill, take an immediate liking to her, and Kelly ends up staying on a trial basis.

One of the first people she meets is Nick McClure, the local handyman. He’s laconic, intense, and his personality hints at hidden depths. He and Kelly begin a slightly guarded friendship. Equally intriguing are some of the long-time guests. There’s Grendel, a doctor who rents one of the cottages by the month; Paula, who visits on weekends with her two young boys, and Eli Larson, a business tycoon who arrives at the inn with his fiancée Kyra, hoping to win her over to its charms. It’s obvious that Eli and Kyra are ill-matched, and when he begins showing an interest in Kelly, she finds herself drawn to two men at once.

On top of the human distractions, the inn holds a mystery. Several years before, a female guest disappeared from the premises and was never seen again. Her personal items are still stored in an unused cottage. The case is unsolved. One of the signs points to Nick’s involvement. When Kelly begins receiving strange messages and a particularly unsettling delivery, it appears she may be a target.

The story moved briskly and was well laid out. Eli, the wealthy, perhaps somewhat lonely businessman, is a good foil for Nick, the quiet contractor who is a bit more than he seems. Eli’s outlandish, lavish gifts and attempts to attract Kelly would certainly turn any woman’s head, especially one who avows she won’t marry and doesn’t want kids. But Kelly’s time at the inn gives her time to reflect on what she really does want out of life. Only one man can give her what she needs, and Kelly can’t decide who it is.

While I enjoyed the romance triangle, and the mystery was well-done (though the villain may not come as a great surprise), the author’s choice of first-person narrative didn’t quite work. Kelly isn’t interesting enough to carry the story alone; I wanted to hear Eli’s thoughts, and especially Nick’s. Scenes start and stop abruptly; weeks pass between paragraphs, and the overall effect is somewhat clunky. The one love scene is fairly short, not a very satisfying conclusion after all of Kelly’s waffling.

Having said that, Eli is fun, Nick’s a charmer, and even Kelly is more like a friend whose stubborn unwillingness to admit the truth is exasperating, but she’s still lovable. At least she’s no airhead virgin venturing alone down dark corridors. When the chips are down, Kelly can take care of herself. This is one contemporary romance that kept me reading into the night.

If you’re in the mood for a good love story with a Gothic structure, The Inn at Half Moon Bay may be just the ticket,

--Cathy Sova


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