Joan Wolf





Warner Books, May 2002
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Romantic Suspense, Contemporary England

The ancient country estate of Silverbridge, seat of the Earls of Silverbridge, has been rented by an American film company to film a historical drama. Tracy Collins, who became a TV star by accident, is nervous to find herself in the leading role opposite England’s leading thespian. This is nothing to the state of nerves she finds herself in when her first sight of Silverbridge gives her an acute case of déjà vu, and her first sight of Harry, the Earl of Silverbridge, seals her romantic fate.

Harry’s sister brings Tracy and Harry into close contact. Tracy is quickly drawn by the attraction between them into the Silverbridge family problems. A hotel developer wants to force the sale of part of Silverbridge’s farm and forest land to lay out a golf course. The family suffers from the denial of emotional attachments inherent in their class culture. An arsonist or two is running around loose. Impossibly, Tracy begins seeing scenes played out at Silverbridge from two hundred years ago, and realizes those people had similar problems. It appears the ghosts want to help bring about the fulfillment they lost to tragedy long ago.

The single best feature of Joan Wolf’s writing is her characterization. "Believable" and "individual" are her watchwords. In SILVERBRIDGE Tracy and Harry and their passionate love stand out in their surroundings like gold on red velvet. There are other characters who also make themselves felt. Harry’s sister Meg is especially vividly created, with all her affections and needs. Tracy’s co-star Jonathan Melbourne does an frightening movie scene which made me want to award the Oscar to Wolf. Melbourne at first raised hopes that we might get to follow a Ralph Fiennes-like character for 400 pages. ("New Olivier"? "Voice like God"?) But the physical description ("burly") returned me to reality. When did Wolf ever need to copy her characters?

In her own gentle way Joan Wolf is a rule breaker. In this, her first contemporary mass market romance, she explores the legalized stalking and peeping-tom-ism of certain types of journalists; the control of Britain’s English Heritage program over the ancient homes of the nobility; and the changes in lifestyle of England’s upper class. Anorexia has been overdone in recent years, but her handling of it is fairly fresh. None of these issues interferes with the story in the slightest.

Breaking the rules of romance writing in another way, her characters actually behave reasonably. In most romances, when someone tries to break up a couple by lying about the man to the girl, the girl believes the lies and goes haring off in some insane direction that would give the man every right to disown her instantly. Once Wolf'’s characters have committed to each other, they trust each other, a truly refreshing difference.

Wolf has certain themes which recur in her books. She often shares with us her expertise on horseback riding, a subject of which I personally never tire. On the other hand, those who don’t like Wolf’s trademark migraines will be pleased to learn we have moved fully into modern day, with its up-to-date drug treatment. From the frequency of their appearance in her books, Wolf seems to have constituted herself as a one-woman Migraine Awareness Crusade. You tell me why we need Migraine Awareness – it’s not as if such a thing can be ignored. But internal evidence shouts that she suffers from them herself, and if she feels a lack of acknowledgment, I feel she has more than earned the right to indulge herself.

My first encounter with Joan Wolf was NO DARK PLACE, her first Medieval mystery. I thought she had created in Hugh Corbaille the best hero since Dorothy Dunnett’s Crawford of Lymond. More than that, I gave NO DARK PLACE my Best Historical Novel Award for 1999. Seven hardcover novels later, I discovered she had also written a long line of paperback Regency romances, and I still haven’t tracked all those down. In my opinion her characterizations and psychological dynamics make her romances the best of their type.

I am sure the light stories are Wolf’s bread and butter; but I want very much to see her also do more of her serious novels like THE EDGE OF LIGHT about King Alfred the Great. In ROAD TO AVALON, she leaves King Arthur’s story line just as legend has it, but turns it upside down by reversing the motives of her characters. She writes her novels in trios, so I am still waiting for a third Medieval mystery. Whatever it is, if it is Joan Wolf, readers who like romantic novels can be sure it will be good.

May 2002 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site


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