At age 16, Carrie Carter and younger sister Lindsey ran away from home, escaping an emotionally unstable home life and the disgusting advances of their alcoholic mother's many boyfriends. Carrie was taken under the wing of Mary Prudence, a loving Christian woman who owned a beach café in the small town of Seaside, New Jersey. Mary promptly gave Carrie a job. Now, several years later, she has handed the reins over to Carrie, who currently owns and runs Carrie's Café, where Lindsey also works as a cook.
Customers mainly consist of locals, one of whom is Greg Barnes, a guy who makes Carrie's heart skip a beat every time he comes in. She's had a crush on him for a long time, but to her dismay, he seems oblivious. Although Carrie wants him to notice her, she can't help sympathizing. Greg, a former police officer, lost his wife and two children a few years ago in a bomb that was meant for him. He drowned his sorrows in alcohol, and now, though a recovering alcoholic, he still hasn't found the joy that disappeared when his family died. Carrie wishes she could put the smile back on his face.
A mystery rocks Seaside when Carrie's dishwasher, Jase Peoples, turns up dead. Due to Twitter and Facebook posts by locals, business picks up at the café, everyone wanting inside information on the investigation. It soon becomes clear that one of Carrie's waitresses, Andi, may hold the secret to Jase's murder. But when Andi starts vanishing during her shifts and then disappears altogether, things get more complicated.
Both Greg and Carrie get involved in solving the case. In the process, their feelings get involved. They can't deny their attraction, but both have baggage from their past that might prevent them from moving forward in their relationship.
SHADOWS ON THE SAND is classified as suspense, but is really more of a romance. Although the end provides some suspenseful moments, the focus is mostly on the romantic element between Carrie and Greg. It develops nicely and evolves naturally out of the situation in which they find themselves. Each character is well-crafted, and author Gayle Roper does a great job providing insight into their pasts, as well as their behavioral motivations. Carrie and Greg take turns pushing and pulling away from the other as they explore their romantic feelings. But the chemistry between them is undeniable, and both give the reader a reason to cheer for them and their potential relationship.
The mystery aspect was good, if a little slow-moving at first. But as the story develops, so does the tension. It kept me guessing a bit, and the look inside the world of religious cults was intriguing. While some may not appreciate the alternating character points of view, particularly because they varied from first to third person, I enjoyed it. The transitions were smooth and offered unique perceptions we wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
There is one subplot that deserves mentioning, involving someone from Carrie's past. Although Carrie is a Christian, this situation makes her face the fact that she holds major unforgiveness in her heart. Forgiveness, grace and second chances are the overriding themes in this story --- for both Carrie and Greg.
SHADOWS ON THE SAND will appeal to readers of different genres. Whether you like mysteries, romance, suspense, or women's fiction, this book has it all.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on July 19, 2011
Shadows on the Sand: A Seaside Mystery