As a young man author Rick Hamlin moved to New York City "to pursue singing and acting," which he "more than dabbled in." But for decades he has made his living as an editor of Guideposts magazine --- not exactly the career path he had in mind. That much of Rick's life might have slid into his contemporary romance, set in Manhattan.
In a prologue we meet Jim Lockhart, a 31-year-old widower. We soon learn that he had come to New York after college to be an actor but had settled in, now with considerable cachet, as a casting director at an ad agency. In chapter one we meet Elizabeth Ash, a professional flutist who's piecing together a living --- giving lessons, playing in theater-pit orchestras, performing on occasional solo tours to cities such as Cheyenne or Boise.
At a church rummage sale Elizabeth picks up some old Regency romances by Harriet Mueller, a genre novelist of some fictional renown. Back home in her small apartment, she discovers that some previous reader has written in purple a "book" of her own in the margins and between the lines --- love letters. By whom? To whom? And why were the novels with such intimate marginal notes for sale in a church basement?
From the outset, you know that Jim's deceased wife wrote these letters to Jim and that Elizabeth and Jim are destined to find each other. Even though you know that eventuality, getting from the beginning to the end of the book is an entertaining read, as you discover the personalities, the New York milieu, the delicate dance of a blossoming relationship.
I didn't notice identifying dates, but I sensed that the story is set in the 1990s. Clues? This is an old-fashioned, low-tech romance, in which communications rely largely on land-line phones and face-to-face meetings --- some of them "chance" encounters that might make you think that Manhattan was a small town.
This would be a good book to give to a seeker, someone unchurched with spiritual interests. Religious themes are present but subtle. Several times a day, principally in the morning when he's at the gym doing "reps" with weights, Jim prays what is sometimes called the "Jesus prayer": "Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me. Make haste to help me. Rescue me and save me. Let thy will be done in my life." It's almost a mantra that he doesn't clearly understand, that he repeats because his wife asked him to do so, right before she died. As the plot unfolds, the prayer --- and the faith it represents --- becomes more meaningful to him, though he doesn't go to church. Nor does Elizabeth, except in the context of pursuing some intrigue in a church-basement thrift shop run by Mrs. Halladay, who becomes an interesting and pivotal character --- especially as she reaches past her professional reserve and summarizes her own life story when Elizabeth most needs to hear it.
As you might guess, Jim's wife, Lois, liked to read Harriet Mueller romance novels. "When Lois took out a Harriet Mueller, [Jim] knew she was considering something that was beyond thought…She needed to be someplace else for a few days. Someplace between the covers of a romance novel." Maybe the same could be said for readers of this Rick Hamlin romance.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on September 5, 2006