Fiction writer Amy Clarke recently quit her job as legal secretary to focus on her novels. Her second book is coming out soon, and she’s feeling the pressure to begin number three. The pressure comes not only from her agent, but also from her husband, who would love to see a big advance come in to help with the bills. But Amy doesn’t want to rush into anything before she hears from God. God often speaks to her through a recurring dream, in which she enters “The Living Room.” This is how she came up with the themes and scripture on which to base her first two novels, and she’s hoping to get a clear direction for book three any day --- or night --- now.
Amy’s former boss calls and asks her to come back to the law firm full time to help out while the current legal secretary is on maternity leave. Because finances are tight, Amy agrees, although she’d rather be home, taking care of her family and working on her novels. At work, she is thrown into a prominent case that quickly consumes her, involving an elderly woman who has recently become very special to Amy.
In Amy’s nighttime trips to “The Living Room,” she begins to get what seem like warnings or foreshadowing about what is to come. Some of the dreams have to do with people in Amy’s personal life, and some offer detailed information about the case.
"[I]f you’re a Whitlow fan and enjoy legal fiction with a hint of mysticism, you may enjoy THE LIVING ROOM."
After reading the back cover copy, I hoped for an intense and compelling read from this popular author. Robert Whitlow is known for his intriguing legal thrillers, but honestly, for me, THE LIVING ROOM did not deliver. The story is “told” but not “shown,” and does not contain much suspense at all --- at least, not the level of suspense implied in the synopsis. Whitlow did not take us into The Living Room with Amy, but only told about it afterwards. And the trips there were few and far between.
The characters also fell flat for me. There was absolutely no depth or motivation, nothing that made me root for them. Amy comes across as one-dimensional, a little too “perfect.” She does not possess any sympathetic quality with which I could connect. I personally did not relate to the Clarke family at all. Maybe that’s because I’m used to more casual humor and ease with my own family instead of formality. Everything from dialogue to daily interaction among Amy, Jeff and their kids felt rigid and awkward. I wanted to go through the experience with Amy. I wanted to feel something for her, to understand her. But I felt nothing. And that’s unfortunate. I really wanted to connect with the characters, but it didn’t happen. They just seemed a little too stiff for my taste.
On a positive note, the Christian element was prevalent throughout. All of the characters live out their faith steadily and consistently. There are some noteworthy plot developments, and although not necessarily fast-paced, the last third of the story contains a little more intrigue, as the case comes to a head. The subplot involving Amy’s daughter and her teacher also pushes its way to the forefront in the final chapters. It’s a little predictable, but at least it offered a bit of tension and more realistic emotion.
There is no question that Robert Whitlow is a popular fiction author today. His latest novel may not be on par with his previous legal thrillers, like THE CHOICE or WATER’S EDGE, but if you’re a Whitlow fan and enjoy legal fiction with a hint of mysticism, you may enjoy THE LIVING ROOM.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on September 19, 2013