Time for Lucas and Erin to meet for the first time in seven years!
(By the way, it is quite clear, despite Lucas’s phone calls and emails to his family, that Erin has had absolutely no contact from him for seven years. Though she has heard that he is back in town because of Grandpa Asshat’s will.)
One of Erin’s rescue horses is having a difficult labor, and she’s called the vet. But instead of the expected Tweed (a transplant from Jolly Old England complete with “crisp British accent” and tweed cap), Lucas comes to her farm. Turns out he became a vet, and was hired, apparently immediately upon setting foot in town, by Tweed.
Not two minutes before, Erin was imagining how much she could have helped her horse if she had become a vet, like she always wanted. Instead, she took over the diner after her mother died. And now Lucas is a vet instead. That’s gotta sting.
They’re both surprised to see each other: Erin for obvious reasons, and Lucas because he didn’t know who he was coming to help, and he assumed she still lived in the same house she lived in as a kid. Which strikes me as an oddly realistic touch—this guy leaves town and, though he changes a lot, assumes that everything and everyone he left behind remained exactly the same.
Together, they deliver the foal, and they are pretty gorram civil to each other, considering. Though Lucas does flash back to the night he ditched her, when he called her a coward for not going with him. We don’t get present-Lucas’s thoughts about this flashback, though, so no regret. At least not yet.
The flashback does clue us in, though, that Erin was no doormat that night: she told Lucas straight up that he was wrong for thinking if he ran away, he could actually ditch his problems, which included grief over he recent death of his dad. So, good for her.
As all this emotional stuff is transpiring, Lucas’s sister Mei (adopted, and apparently the heroine of the previous book in the series) appears with the little boy, Max, in tow. Perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently rough on Lucas and Mei’s mom—she has barely interacted with the child and refuses to sit for him, ever, while Lucas is working. So Mei has had to play babysitter (she’s a substitute teacher). And now she has tracked Lucas down (probably not too hard in this bitty town), to drop off the kid because she has to work.
And so we set up the Big Misunderstanding: Lucas says to Erin that “He belongs to me.” Which, like the best Big Misunderstandings, is a statement that is true yet can be interpreted in multiple ways.
And since Erin has sorta been Saving Herself for the imagined day when Lucas came back, you can imagine what a shock this is to our Good Christian Heroine. Not that I entirely blame her.
Also in the best Big Misunderstanding tradition (chalk it up to Poor Communication Killing), Lucas doesn’t clarify what he means, and neither does Mei, for that matter. Now, I don’t yet know how much Mei knows about Lucas and Erin, so I can give her a pass, but Lucas has every opportunity right now to explain the situation, but of course, does not.
Cut away from the Big Opportunity Lucas had to explain his relationship to Max, to Erin in the diner, serving Our Villain, the guy from the dastardly other branch of the family tree, Vincent. I’m not clear on whether Vincent will get money if he can keep the Real Heirs from fulfilling the terms of Grandpa Asshat’s will, or if he’s just your standard stock Mustache Twirler, but he makes a bunch of snide comments about Lucas and about Erin (he suspects (correctly, of course) that she’s holding a candle for him), but also lets loose that Max is adopted (or soon-to-be-adopted). Erin has a “reaction” to this, and though I’m sure it’s mostly relief that Lucas didn’t find Someone to Have a Baby with Who Wasn’t Her, this is a Christian romance, and you know they won’t say that in so many words. But Vincent doesn’t pursue this specific point, instead making ominous predictions that Lucas won’t last the year.
I would love to read this will and the technicalities of this bizarre and hurtful requirement. Does the clock start running for each individual heir, or does it not start until Lucas, the last of the bunch, shows up? What does “live in town” mean, precisely? Could the heirs maintain a residence and P.O. box but still keep their lives/jobs in their own towns? So many questions!
As usual, I’m getting a late start with my Wintermas romance critique, but I’m excited to get going on this one, even if it will mean doing more than one chapter at a time, most of the time.
Again as usual, this will be a blind read for me, meaning I have not read the entire book and, in fact, will be just as far along as you are, every time. So it should be some good Wintermas fun, discovering the book together.
Just a note on how I pick my Wintermas reads: I don’t do it based on how good or bad I think the book will be. Mostly this is because I doubt anything can ever beat Christmas Town for shear Wintermas WTF-ery, but also because I like this think this is a bot of the holiday spirit in me, trying a book blind, and perhaps finding one that is good. I merely go read back covers and blurbs until I find one that catches my interest.
This year, I decided to do something different by reading the final book in a series (Rocky Mountain Heirs). Which, who knows, might be a mistake on my part: it means that there are five books worth of backstory to discover, including characters we are presumably meant to be familiar with. I haven’t read any of these books (though I am intrigued, for future critiquing purposes, in this Thanksgiving–themed Christian romance), so I might or might not figure out who belongs in which story.
But on to this story in particular! I like the idea of doing a prodigal story, mostly because I’ve always hated the story of the prodigal son. This is mostly because I always felt so bad for the older son, who worked his ass off for his dad for years, but was never rewarded like the younger son was for—well, for wishing his father dead and then leaving home and screwing up and crawling back stinking of pig shit. So the tale always seemed, to me, more about parental favoritism than God’s love.
Our own Prodigal is one Lucas Clayton, back in his hometown of Clayton, Colorado. As you might guess, the Claytons were the founding family of the town, and now Claytons are gathering together because of the kind of bizarre term of a will so common to romance novels: Grandfather Clayton died in the summer, and his will specifies that in order to inherit, the grandkids need to return to Clayton and live there for a year.
Lucas has returned based on loyalty to an as-yet-unnamed sister, and there is a mention of vague animosity between the Rocky Mountain Heirs, and another branch of the family. See, Lucas, the prodigal, ditched town at age eighteen, and now seven years have passed. Just so we know what a prince of a guy Lucas is, we are told that for SEVEN YEARS, he has communicated with the family only “through emails and the occasional phone call.”
That way, he stayed in control of the relationships.
Then those aren’t actually relationships, Lucas. Just so’s you know.
Lucas also muses about another “relationship,” this one with Erin Fields, the girl he left behind when he ditched town, which Lucas apparently prefers to think of as “choosing loyalty to her family over her love for him.”
Or, yanno, she was 18 years old and not ready to uproot her entire existence for her rebellious high school boyfriend. There could be that possibility, too.
Now, by this point, you might be thinking, as I was, that there must be some dark secret behind Lucas’s desire to leave town. Like there was some horrible abusive homelife or something. But no, we are immediately told that the main problem was that Lucas’s mother wanted him to become a doctor and “serve God.”
Wow, what a bitch, eh? I’m now interested to see the book’s take on this. Because as of right now, Lucas kinda seems like a selfish brat.
But it seems Lucas did alright for himself all those years—he went to college, at least. And now, the big homecoming surprise is that he’s got his college roommate’s adorable son as his own. This kid was apparently kidnapped from his dying addict father during a drug deal gone bad, and Lucas friggin’ saved this kid, which sounds like an awesome story that we hopefully will hear more about.
But not before we cut to our heroine, Erin, for her take on the whole teenage-boyfriend-ditches-town situation. She also seems to have done alright for herself since being dumped—she owns a cafe and adopts rescue horses, which is pretty cool. Less cool is more stuff we learn about Lucas—that despite his internal insistence that she chose her family over him, he was the one who insisted their high school romance remain a secret…to keep her reputation unmarred by his “wild” one.
We also learn that the “choice” Lucas offered Erin was high-pressure and spur-of-the-moment: he showed up at her house in the middle of the night with a bag, and told her he was leaving town RIGHT NOW and did she want to come with him?
Nice guy, eh? Nice, non-controlling, non-manipulative guy.
Apparently there were nasty rumors flying around, again involving this evil other branch of the family. We are also told that this town has less that a thousand people in it, and what is it with small Christmas towns being hotbeds of viciousness and gossip?
Anyway, that’s Erin and her backstory. And hell, we’re in the first chapter of a Christian Christmas romance and there has not been one mention of Christmas yet!
It wouldn’t be the end of a Babylon book without a smug-in with the Seven!
Because they’ll stop at nothing!
They’ve met up this time in Monaco, just in time for the Grand Prix. Phillips’ Wikipedia skills have served him well this time, since this is appropriate, timing-wise: the Grand Prix is held at the end of May.
One odd thing I noticed, and I’ll see if this is a recurring thing when we get to Book 4: the men of the Seven address each other formally (Señor Mendez, General Li) but address the women by their first names (Jakoba and Viorica). Though, of course, Isis tends to be Isis to most people, while Michael is Dr. Murphy. I should start a count so we can have a drinking game.
The Seven are disappointed that the Bridge wasn’t blown up, but pleased enough at the resulting panic and decision to get the U.N. to Babylon.
Then they start doing what they always do, brag about random events happening around the world. Jakoba is proud that “we have even convinced the Arabs to raise oil prices.” That took convincing, did it?
They go on to talk about Swiss bank accounts and making direct threats upon the lives of bankers’ families, which sounds rather more mob-like than like mysterious puppet masters who conduct everything in secret.
But they seemed pleased enough. In fact, Bartholomew claims that “Soon we’ll be in control of everything that is happening in the world,” which seems ambitious even for the Seven.
Talk turns to Murphy, as it always does for everyone that is living in the world, and even Levi is name-checked as a fellow “thorn in our flesh,” which is actually a pretty witty Bible reference.
(Isis, of course, is not a thorn in the flesh, what with being A Girl and all.)
The Seven note that even with Talon “working diligently,” they have not yet been able to achieve their goal of eliminating Murphy, despite their near-completion of controlling everything that is happening in the world. Man, if only it was easier to kill a college professor who lives alone in a normal house with no security, who takes the same routes to work and church every day and every week, and who employs no measures of self-protection whatsoever. It’s a challenge, for sure.
They also mention the need to eliminate Methuselah, and we learn that the Seven killed Meth’s whole family. Now Meth, at least, I could see as a challenge for the Seven, since he is “wealthy and powerful.” Two things that Murphy is not, I hasten to remind everyone. Hell, Meth can presumably afford as entire security force, while Murphy’s big outing each month is the local diner. Just sayin’, it really shouldn’t be so hard to kill this guy.
Then the Seven confirm the worst fever dreams of LaHaye and his ilk: that “the 1960s were successful in convincing everyone that God was dead” and that in the 70s, “the concept of the occult began to grow aided by all the Saturday cartoon shows about demons, witches, ghosts, wizards, and supernatural heroes.”
Um…do they mean Scooby-Doo? Granted, I was a kid in the 80s, not the 70s, but I honestly can’t think of any other occult-related cartoons. (And hell, the villains in Scooby were never really witches or ghosts, but just Old Man Whithers in disguise!)
(Now, granted, the 70s saw a great many occult-related movies for grownups, like The Exorcist and The Witching and Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen and, of course, The Touch of Satan.)
But that’s not what the Seven said—they said cartoons. Any ideas, anyone?
Honestly, I’m surprised the Seven didn’t pull a Jack Chick and bring up
Dark Dungeons Dungeons & Dragons.
As their final piece of evidence that “Europa is rising,” they do another callback to the most evil thing in the whole entire world:
“We need to continue to promote tolerance and more laws about hate speech.”
Yep, because we all know that inclusivity and decency towards others will lead to only one thing: the AntiChrist.
And on that note, on to Wintermas!
Phillips tries to inject some last-minute suspense in these last three chapters. So he takes us through Murphy and Levi’s breakfast convo, then the showdown with Talon—but then cuts off to spend some time with the Seven before cutting back to the showdown.
But I am on to his wily games, and will just deal with the whole showdown right now.
The next day at breakfast, Murphy and Levi get to chatting, having heard nothing about the falcon-related deaths. In fact, the first thing they talk about is Lehman:
“You know, Michael, I had a hard time going to sleep last night. I kept thinking about Dr. Lehman’s discovery. It could easily become the catalyst for sparking war against Israel.”
“Funny you should mention that. I had the same worry.”
“Yeah, funny you should mention THE ONLY THING WE TALKED ABOUT ALL DAY YESTERDAY.”
Murphy sensitively segues the conversation immediately into anti-Semitism. He tells Levi about articles he’s read about anti-Semitism. Not because he cares about Levi’s safety and comfort, mind you, but because a rise in anti-Semitism is yet another sign to Murphy that “we are moving toward God’s final Judgement Day.”
Levi says that he sees lots of anti-Semitism in the U.S., and Murphy is off to the races:
“I think [the anti-Semitism] revolves around four concepts.”
Yeah, Murphy proceeds to Christiansplain anti-Semitism to an Israeli Jewish man.
Murphy brings up the old Jewish-control-of-everything canard, the Israel-Palestine situation, anti-Americanism/anti-globalism (huh?), and simple “dislike for Jews as a race,” which would kinda seem to cover several of the previous concepts, but Levi nonetheless praises Murphy for his deep insights.
Murphy has no answers (big surprise there), but he’s “just glad we’re friends.”
Oddly, Murphy fails to consider that the belief that Jews are hellhound might explain at least a bit of anti-Semitism.
Their conversation is cut short by Levi’s phone ringing. Unlike with Murphy, we learn what Levi’s ringtone is: the theme from Exodus.
Now, this just so happens to be a gorgeous piece of music…and Murphy laughs at it. Whether this is because a majestic classical theme is ill-suited to a tinny ringtone, or because the choice of music is just so on-the-nose for our one Jewish character, I do not know. But the call is to invite Levi and Murphy to “our final showdown with Talon and his crew.” (No, really, that’s how Levi puts it.)
The other Mossad agents have “followed the man with the mustache to an old warehouse section of Et Taiyiba.” Curiously, they don’t mention where they followed Talon from, because nobody yet seems to know about the massacre at the oil field.
So they get there, and Levi has one of the agents hand off an extra gun to the archeologist who has tagged along. Man, remember when this story included the character detail of Murphy being an expert archer who never went anywhere without his bow? Phillips sure forgot about that in a hurry.
Levi picks a lock to the building they think Talon is in, and Murphy reacts like an impressed nine-year-old:
“Pretty cool,” Murphy exclaimed.
Dude, you found Noah’s Ark. How are you impressed by basic lock-picking skills?
Then, as they split up…
…and Murphy is promptly startled by a kitty cat.
Well, that’s one more reason to hate cats. You either love them or hate them…there’s no neutral ground.
Does Phillips try to come up with the most banal statements ever for Murphy, or does it just come naturally?
Alerted to their position by Murphy’s cat problem, a firefight with Talon and his goons ensues. Meanwhile, other goons outside the building fire in a few rocket-propelled grenades, setting the building ablaze.
The three Mossad agents outside hold their positions and don’t rush in to help, because “No one is to escape.”
Yeah, and they promptly fail in that whole prevent-escape thing. Because Talon busts out, driving a Land Rover holding four of his goons. One of the Mossad agents (Isaac, if you care), manages to kill one, and gets a bullet in his own leg for his trouble.
And yes, everyone else escapes. Which is significantly more than “no one.”
And the building is destroyed.
(And Phillips has effectively failed to convey any sense of drama or urgency or suspense with this splitting-the-chapters ploy, because we know Murphy and Levi are in the building, and we know Phillips won’t be killing them. They’re obviously going to make it out, so why not just do the whole scene at once?)
So we cut back to the last chapter of the book, now inside the building. The Mossad agent we only just met has of course been killed, and Levi has been injured and knocked unconscious. So it’s up to Our Hero to get them both out of the burning building!
Murphy also realizes that Talon and his crew have left, and has one last stunning insight for us:
Then he finds a small tunnel that “must have been an emergency exit for the terrorists.” So he drags Levi through it, and gets stuck, and gets sorta unstuck, and then realizes that he doesn’t know if the tunnel actually leads anywhere, or has been caved in by the RPGs/fire, and…
The book ends. Murphy ponders all this, and ponders Isis, and Cliffhanger Ending.
So Murphy and Levi head out to an oil field to meet with Dr. Lehman, who is important because…Talon might have seen him at some point.
Lehman and Murphy blather on about oil for almost three pages, but the upshot is that the earthquake, which was so massive that it disrupted exactly nobody’s travel plans, nonetheless caused oil from Iraq to seep away into Israeli land.
Levi advises Lehman to keep this info to himself for the time being, since it could “lay the groundwork for war.” Lehman assures Levi that the only people he told were the Mossad agent, and that nice South African gentleman who just happened to be passing by.
Levi hangs around and lectures Lehman for awhile about war and other fun things, then he and Murphy both peace out.
They don’t however, think to actually warn Lehman about the dangers of said South African fellow, so that when he shows back up (at the Israeli oil site in the middle of nowhere, remember), Lehman greets Talon like an old friend.
Talon breaks Lehman’s neck. (Gorammit, Talon, what kind of serial killer with a trademark kill are you? No talon finger and no falcons?)
But no, Talon saves the falcon kill for one of the workers. The other worker (and only other person there) actually manages to take down both falcons himself before Talon shoots him.
Damn, son, why isn’t this guy our hero?
His name was Zahid. And he did more than Murphy ever has—brought down Talon’s falcons.
Oh, yeah, wait’ll you see this, guys.
But first, a quick note on Wintermas: due to being so close to the end of The Europa Conspiracy, I’m going to push through the last few chapters, before beginning my usual Wintermas romance, hopefully on December 1st.
Can’t wait. You shall see a common theme emerging.
So, Murphy flies to Israel. Despite the “devastation” of the earthquake (and no, we don’t know yet where the epicenter was), Murphy has no trouble getting his rental car and traveling off on “the coastal highway north out of Tel Aviv.” He touches base with Levi, who suggests they have dinner in Nazareth. Considering what happened the last time Murphy went out to dinner in an unfamiliar city, he is surprisingly unconcerned about this.
Meanwhile, Talon trains some falcons.
Cut to Murphy and Levi at the restaurant:
“It’s been a rough few days,” Murphy said. “I still haven’t gotten over the loss of Bingman—he was a really nice man.”
Did Phillips seriously just forget that he let Bingbert miraculously escape???
“His death brought to mind Laura’s death and the church bombing, and all the people who died while we were looking for the ark. It’s hard to lose friends.”
Yep. Yep, he did.
And by the way, I get that Murphy has that traumatic past and all, but can’t he be upset about Bingman’s not-death just because of that, not because it brings up memories of other peoples’ deaths?
Oh, and it doesn’t stop there:
“It’s also discouraging to have the ark covered with an avalanche and an earthquake buying the Handwriting on the Wall and all of the treasures of Belshazzar’s temple.”
Plus, yanno, a man died, leaving behind a wife and three kids. There’s that.
Also, come to think of it, it’s kinda silly for the story for Bingman to survive, at least with the camera. Sorta takes the zing out of the whole an-earthquake-buried-the-evidence problem. Because Bingman rescued the camera and survived, so now they have some evidence. Not absolute proof, mind you, but more evidence than they have for the ark.
But now Bington mysteriously didn’t make it, so we’re okay again, I guess.
Levi certainly seems to think so:
“But, Michael, you are alive, and Isis is alive,” Abrams said encouragingly. “The living must go on.”
Yeah, it’s been 24 whole hours, man! Suck it up!
(Oh, and Jassim survived too. But who cares about him, right?)
And we need a quick reminder that Levi is still hellhound:
“I wish I could be a man of faith like you. I’m just not there yet.” [said Levi]
“Yeah, I’m no man of faith. Just a dumb ole Jew.”
“Well, keep an open mind, Levi. If you seek to find truth, it will end up finding you. God has a way of pursuing like a hound dog. He’s even been called the Hound of Heaven. I think He may be on your trail.”
“I hope so, Michael. I hope so.”
“Yeah, sure hope I don’t go to hell because of my silly Jewish beliefs. If only Jesus could magic the real religion into my heart.”
“I hope he does, Levi. If you were to die without converting, I would feel really bad for a day or so, imagining your eternal torment. Then again, the living must go on, right?”
Death and religion out of the way, the men move on to discussing Talon. Levi believes he may be in Israel right now, which…why?
Oh well, the plan is to “take them” (Talon’s personal terror cell) “the next time they get together,” which makes it sound like the terrorists meet to go wine tasting or something. Murphy wants to be part of the operation, and Levi is all for that, because then Murphy “can make the ID,” except Levi just said they already have two Mossad agents monitoring the cell anyway, so again the question is…why?
“We have a score to settle. He’s the one who killed Laura and tried to kill Isis and many others.” [said Murphy]
Well, yeah, and he succeeded in killing many others, including Shari’s brother and Shane’s son. So how come Murphy gets first dibs? How about giving Alvena Smidt’s family a shot?
Oh, and one more new character (since Phillips may or may not have killed off Bingby): Dr. Brian Lehman, an earthquake expert, is around, and a Mossad agent saw Talon (but we can’t identify him!) watching the guy. So Murph and Levi are going to meet Earthquake Guy.
Back at the Marine base, Murphy learns that the earthquake was a 9.5 on the Richter scale, with an aftershock of 8.2. Which Murphy immediately declares is “as big as the great quake in Chile,” though this is only maybe true. But hey, Murphy really likes to use the Wikipedia of his mind and, more importantly, rank stuff.
Astonishingly, Murphy volunteers his (and, by implication, Isis’s and Bingby’s) services (Jassim is injured, remember) for earthquake relief. And, after a long day of helping people who were completely devastated by this quake, Isis breaks down and cries in Murphy’s arms. Being a frail female, this is only natural. Murphy and Bingbing have no such reaction.
In fact, Murphy tells her to suck it up. Biblically, speaking, of course:
“In times like these there are no easy answers. A passage in Romans, Chapter Eight, talks a little a out this.” He reached for the pocket-size New Testament he carried. “Let me read you what it says.”
He recites this to her. Because there’s nothing that cures the tears of a distraught lady-person like telling her that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will give us later.” Especially when the lady-person is not someone who will experience that glory, nor are the people she spent all day helping.
Hilariously, we don’t even get to see Isis’s reaction to this incredibly condescending and insensitive display, because Murphy gets a call from Levi (speaking of people who won’t see Murphy’s glory). Levi reveals that the GW Bridge terror team had been recruited from Hamas. Meaning Talon recruited form Hamas, which is just making this all even more implausible. Levi invites Murphy to Et Taiyiba, where some of the terrorists were traced to, since Murph has “quite a bit of information on this Talon fellow.” More than the Mossad and the FBI put together? That’s just sad. Especially since this information can be summed up in one sentence: Talon is a male from South Africa with a razor finger and an interest in falconry. There, done.
Murphy, of course, immediately says yes, because Bingbert needs to get back to his family (he has, after all, been gone for two whole days), Jassim needs to go home to Egypt to heal his broken leg, and Isis…”well, Isis is worn down.” Being a lady-person and all. No stamina, those wimmins.
At the airport (which, since everyone can immediately leave on three different flights, seems surprisingly unaffected by the 9.5 earthquake), Isis expresses concern for Murphy going to Israel. Frankly, I’m surprised he even told her that much.
So he kisses her.
EWWWW NO STOP POOR ISIS