Bitter Roots by C.J. Carmichael
My Rating: 1.5/5 TARDISes
Series: Bitter Root Mysteries #1
Date Published: April 25th, 2017
Publisher: Tule Publishing
Pages: 174 pages
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Synopsis: Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.
On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.
Bitter Roots is the first of four Bitter Root Mysteries.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
This is my first experience with C.J. Carmichael’s work, and sadly, I really did not enjoy Bitter Roots at all. You could potentially say that it left a “bitter” taste in my mouth. The synopsis sounded fantastic when I first found this novel—and it was an extremely quick read—but the plot was rather poorly executed. There was no aspect of this novel that was particularly memorable or that made me feel motivated to continue reading. Thankfully, this is a short novel, so I did manage to make it to the end, but there was really no payoff for my efforts once I got there.
First of all, I will admit that I had the wrong impression of this novel from the very start. I believed it to be a mystery/thriller novel, however I did not realize that the author is known primarily for writing romantic suspense novels until I looked it up on Goodreads. At this point, I had already agreed to read and review it, so I decided to give it a fair chance. And I did in fact go into this novel with no bias, lowered expectations, or belief that I would end up disliking it. The overall idea sounded intriguing, so I was still eager to give it a try.
This novel is a third person narrative that predominately follows the lives of three characters—Tiff, Zak, and Justin—as they navigate their experiences and relationships in the small town of Lost Trail following the murder of a young woman. Tiff, an accountant, has just made the difficult choice of moving back to her family’s ranch after her life in Seattle falls apart. Zak is the dispatcher at the local sheriff’s office who seems content with his life behind the desk, but uses his talents to inspect the murder case on his own time. Justin is a lawyer who is settling down with his wife and her daughter, though there are many unresolved issues floating around behind the scenes of this seemingly perfect marriage.
Tiff is still struggling to find closure after the deaths of her father and brother years ago, and to come to terms with her mother’s mental health, which seems to be spiraling even more out of control than it was the last time they were together. Tiff becomes involved in the search to find the killer, as the murdered young woman had been under her family’s employment, working on their Christmas tree farm.
Zak, with his inquisitive mind, cannot help but work on the case of the murdered woman, even though it is really not his place to do so. On top of this, he is rekindling a friendship with Tiff and dealing with his confusing feelings toward the new deputy at the station. And lastly, Justin’s storyline mostly focuses on his home life with his family, leaving him less involved in the crime solving area of the novel.
Sadly, the murder mystery aspect of the story took a backseat to the troubles, fractured relationships, and sometimes perverted musings of the main characters. Now don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy some family drama in novels, but I hated the fact that everything overshadowed a murder and the obviously shoddy detective work surrounding the case.
The plot was exceedingly slow and repetitive as well. The main characters spent most of their time being suspicious of one person and never even considering anyone else. Tiff and Justin also met up every few chapters and basically recapped, in great detail, everything that had just been read. It felt like we were never getting anywhere, until the last three chapters when Carmichael slammed down on the accelerator and plowed into the conclusion.
Comparatively, the plot wrapped up uncannily quickly and was far too rushed. The big twist was not very impressive—it was a surprise, but that was not enough to salvage the rest of the plot. It seemed very out of the blue, as the reader only gets to hear the most important information in these last few chapters. So while it is unexpected, it is unexpected due to lack of any information in prior points of the novel.
The characters and their personalities really fell flat for me. They were incredibly one dimensional throughout the entire narrative, and I found it hard to connect with almost all of them. I spent a lot of the novel feeling quite fed up with them and their choices. The only character I felt at all invested in was Justin. He was the most genuinely kind human being, and his relationship with his family really pulled me in.
Another positive factor of the characterization was the relationship between Tiff and Zak. Prior to even knowing there would be elements of romance to this novel (if you can even call them that), I assumed that this friendship between them would probably end up turning into something more. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they maintained a strong companionship throughout the narrative without falling for each other. This is honestly something that I personally see becoming much rarer in novels these days, so I commend Carmichael for making this choice.
One of the other positives about this novel was the writing. I didn’t have any real complaints about the style itself. I thought that Carmichael was a strong writer, and her experience and talent still shine through. This was one of the only things that pushed me to finish off the book. Her words flowed very well and this is what carried me so quickly through the narrative. Her descriptions, for the most part, were very detailed, but I wish there had been a bit more of them, and that she had gone about them differently.
There was a big downside to the descriptions, in my opinion. This was the aspect of the novel that left me feeling a bit offended. The only characters who really got any sort of detailed description were all the young and implausibly attractive ones. These people were mostly women, and everyone was “tall and slender” with unrealistically perfect appearances. This is another part of the novel that overshadowed not only the severity of the situation, but also the intelligence and capability of the females in this narrative. Overall, I was taken aback at this and quite unimpressed and annoyed.
I thought this might possibly be due to the fact that I am unaware of the common conventions of romance novels, but that is still something I’m unsure of. It doesn’t really excuse the moments of sexism and perverted thoughts that really angered me. For example, most of the men in this novel—especially Zak—were extremely focused on and judgmental of the appearances of women, and way too focused on leering at them.
Unfortunately, I would not recommend this novel or series. It was not at all what I was expecting given the promising synopsis. The story is very repetitive and lacks depth, and it is even mildly offensive at times—at least it was for me. Despite the writing itself being relatively good, there was nothing, in my opinion, redeeming about this novel, nor was there anything worth reading plot-wise. I would definitely be willing to try another one of Carmichael’s novels, but I don’t think I will be continuing on with this particular series.