What You Wish For, by Catherine Robertson.
Her characters are very real, as the first book demonstrated (see review below). Some have had an improvement in their circumstances; Kerry McFarlane has made a satisfying life with Sidney, no-nonsense solo mum of two strapping boys, and is currently expecting a visit from his parents in the U.K. His dad is famed for being monosyllabic, but his mum makes up for it in spades. Kerry’s powers of oratory fall somewhere in between. Mum and Dad are going to stay with struggling farmer Vic Halsworth in a guest cottage Vic’s wife established during their very short marriage. Vic doesn’t say much either, and doesn’t really know how it came to be that Kerry’s parents are renting his cottage. While the income will be very welcome, he has bigger problems to deal with: there are squatters on his land camping by the river and the local council (who haven’t changed their spots at all since the first novel) wants Vic to move them on – health and safety, you understand, not to mention polluting the waterway); now an anonymous person has started a blog naming Vic as a ‘dirty’ farmer. Things are only middling!
The beloved, long-serving and suffering Doctor Love has retired, replaced by earnest young Indian Doctor Ashwin Ghadavi: he has his own cross to bear in the shape of his mother in Ahmedabad; he must uphold the family honour by marrying soon – here are the details of a suitable twenty-five year old. Return home forthwith, and look rested! Yes Mum. The only inconvenience with that plan is that he has fallen helplessly in love with Emma, gorgeous free-spirited daughter of Jacko, proprietor of The Boatshed, the best bar and café in the district – well, the best bar ever if measured on the friendliness and conviviality scale. Yes, Ashwin has found his niche, and doesn’t want to return to Ahmedabad, looking rested. Gabriel’s Bay is IT.
Ms Robertson treats us to interesting subplots as well, characters such as Devon, so beautiful he is mistaken for a girl, not least because he refuses to cut his long blonde hair in defiance of people’s opinions that he must be a poof; and Brownie, just out of jail and trying to integrate himself into the community again: they’re all here in this charming story that ace journalist John Campbell said made us ‘not so much readers as neighbours’. An entirely fitting compliment. FIVE STARS.
Gabriel’s Bay, by Catherine Robertson
Gabriel’s Bay has high unemployment, an aging and diminishing population, and the attendant problems of petty crime, drug use and child neglect. The local council are all dyed-in-the-wool practitioners of licking each other’s nether regions depending upon what it will get them, and those sterling characters who are genuine in their wish to see the town they love survive and prosper – somehow! – are at a loss to know how to remedy the situation before Gabriel’s Bay deteriorates into a ghost town.
Enter Kerry Francis MacFarlane from London, employed as home help to an elderly couple who were one of the first families in the area, and therefore the Gentry: they are of the mistaken belief that they have employed a woman, when in fact Kerry is a male, and a ginger one at that (every stripe and colour gets an outing in this book). He has left his bride at the altar and feels that the farther he travels from the scene of the crime, the better: to say that he is feckless is unkind, but he definitely needs to overhaul his ‘responsible-for-his-own-mess’ sensibilities. Gabriel’s Bay is just the place to have a change of heart. It rolls out its characters to him gradually; they don’t accept charming strangers with the gift of the gab at face value, so it is up to Kerry to prove that he has stickability, especially when floating the idea of luring tourists to the town by opening a kind of Museum of Miniatures: both his employers have made a wonderful miniature railway and a gorgeous dollhouse (with a real diamond chandelier!) and the local Doctor spends his rare leisure hours making intricate and authentic mini soldiers for war games of famous battles. These games are tremendously popular among the local aficionados because the historical outcome is not always achieved, depending on who’s playing: Sacre Bleu – Bonaparte won against Wellington last week!
Naturally, Romance rears its pretty head for Kerry, but not in the shape of someone gorgeous, lean and lithe: instead Sidney is a struggling solo mum with two unruly sons and a waistline that disappeared long ago – in other words, someone real. She is also a big-hearted minder of waifs and strays, not all of whom are poor – and she doesn’t tolerate any BS, so to Win Plump Lady and prove his worth as the town’s saviour, Kerry has to grow a spine and, for the first time in his life, Stay Put and Follow Through.
Christmas is coming, and ‘Gabriel’s Bay’ is the ideal present for a hugely entertaining Beach or Airport read - just the fun, feel-good story to relax with during the holidays. Catherine Robertson has done small-town New Zealand proud. FOUR STARS.