Last Chance Christmas
By Hope Ramsay
Publisher: Grand Central Forever
September 25, 2012
Lark Chaikin has come to Last Chance, South Carolina, to scatter her father’s ashes. She’s confused about why her father, who was born a Jew and died an atheist, wants his final remains scattered on the eighteenth hole of the Golfing for God miniature golf course in this small southern town, but she’s determined to follow her father’s instructions. Her father claimed that he found himself at Golfing for God, but Lark has no idea what that means. And her father refused to explain. She soon discovers that her father is not the only one reluctant to offer explanations. When the good people of Last Chance learn that she is Abe Chaikin’s daughter, most of them want her gone and her father’s ashes with her. No one seems willing to explain why her father’s memory is still strong enough to stir up such a mix of feelings. The more they resist explaining, the greater Lark’s need for some answers about what happened forty years ago.
Stonewall Rhodes, Last Chance’s police chief and oldest son of Ruby and Elbert Rhodes, is a Christmas grinch and an all-occasion grump. A widower who even after six years cannot move beyond his grief over the loss of his wife, who was killed by a drunk driver and a father confused by his daughters (teenage Lizzy, who’s scary smart, and young Haley, whose conversations with a weeping angel are mostly about her father), Stone is torn between the feeling that Lark Chaikin means trouble for his town and needs to leave immediately and the sense that she understands him in ways no one else does.
Lark is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has captured the reality of wars around the world for the public. Traumatized by seeing her friend, colleague, and mentor blown up as she clicked the shutter for a shot of him, she is haunted by flashbacks when she tries to use her camera and by recurring nightmares. But Stone makes her feel safe; she can shoot pictures of him without triggering the flashbacks. Lark has Stone thinking about things that he hasn’t thought about in a long time. He even takes off his wedding band. But can a man who holds on tightly and a woman who’s always leaving find their way to an HEA?
This is the fourth novel in Ramsay’s Last Chance series. Readers who liked the first three novels will find in this one the same warmth and mostly well-intentioned interference that is characteristic of the town, the same quirky cast of townspeople, and the same focus on the colorful, tightly-knit Rhodes family. Except for multiculturalism banners waving, the South of these books seems closer to the South of half a century ago than it does to the South I live in today, but for some readers, this will be a plus.
Lark and Stone are interesting characters individually, and their differences and their commonalities make them especially interesting together. I would like to have seen more of them together. Abe Chaikin’s secret, the anti-Semitism of some of the Last Chance teens, and Elbert’s suspicions are all potentially interesting, but they are either resolved too easily or never really resolved. I was left feeling as if the book needed to be a bigger book or a more tightly focused one.
It is, as the title suggests, a Christmas book, but the Christmas season seemed more decorative than substantive. Haley’s Sorrowful Angel is a significant part of this story, and that thread has an emotional appeal that for me was diminished by the over-the-top golf course scene. I didn’t dislike the book. It has some lovely moments, but I wanted to like it much more than I did.
Angels figure prominently in many Christmas books. What are your favorite angelic Christmas reads?