Review by Jessica Dall
Set in the 1930’s, Carol Tibaldi’s debut novel, Willow Pond seems like it has a little bit of everything—gangsters, mystery, kidnapping, romance. Overall, I was excited to start reading—and honestly I wish I had been able to keep a little more excitement while reading it. While not a bad book, it did feel lacking in just enough ways that my enthusiasm for it dwindled early on.
Set in the midst of prohibition, Laura, a young mother who has left her stifling movie-star husband to try to regain who she is as a person, finds her life turned upside down when her infant son, Todd, is kidnapped. With her husband’s disgruntled employees, enemies, and an aunt that runs a speakeasy there’s no shortage of suspects. Perhaps most unfortunate of all, the police officer heading the case doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing at all. With several twists and turns, Willow Pond winds its way through the case as the lives of those involved are changed around it.
Starting the book, the first chapter begins quickly to drag. While it is possible to get a sense of the love Laura feels for her son—which is very important to the rest of the book—backstory is thrown at the reader in long chunks, making it harder to get into the story, rather than being worked into the story as it comes naturally as might better suit the work. With all this backstory, it seems Laura is nothing special—someone who’s left a stifling marriage to try to come into their own person. Generically sweet and pretty.
Luckily, we then are introduced to Laura’s aunt, Virginia, a strong, somewhat intimidating businesswoman—whose business just happens to be a little less than legal. Where Laura seems like a rather generic ‘woman coming into her own’ character, Virginia has some power behind her that is simply fun to read. As more characters are introduced, it seems that each falls into one of these two camps—generic stock character or well-developed person.
Unsurprisingly, the plot seems to waver when faced with these two groups of people. Overall, the mystery of Todd’s kidnapping is very well done. The reader is offered glimpses at the kidnappers, but is kept guessing as a new twist suddenly arises. The subplots, however, are largely at the mercy of the characters they are following. Laura’s budding romance is predictable faced with stock “bullying narcissistic” ex and “I’m everything your husband wasn’t” love interest. Virginia dealing with her speakeasy and being a suspect in the kidnapping investigation made me laugh out loud at times with the things that came out of the stronger woman’s mouth. If all of the characters had had the same draw, it’s likely the book would be hard to put down.
Perhaps my largest criticism of Willow Pond, however, is the use of its setting. As much fun as prohibition and gangsters can be, the book overall seemed to lack any sense of the time period. Descriptions of some of the flapper dresses were very well done, but starting the book, there seemed to be little reason for the book to be set in the 1930’s rather than modern day. Without any natural tie to the time period, it seemed forced when characters would suddenly use bits of period slang. Even with the speakeasies, it was difficult to get a sense of being in a different time and place as often happens with historical novels.
All in all, Willow Pond is a book that has both very strong points and rather weak ones. The main mystery plot is well thought out and has enough twists to keep most people guessing. Some characters are incredibly enjoyable, but then others are generally boring, slowing down their sections of the plot whenever they appear. Still, I look forward to seeing Tibaldi’s future works where, perhaps, these general issues will be resolved, leaving an interesting, readable, novel.
Willow Pond (2012) is available in both paperback and ebook through CreateSpace and Amazon Digital Services respectively.