The third in Shaffner’s series (In the Land of Second Chances, 2004, etc.) about a mysterious stranger, a cerebral savior, reviving a small town.
The town is Ebb, Neb., the stranger is Vernon L. Moore and the narrator as before is Wilma Porter, owner of the B&B. The town is run by powerful women, many of them divorcées like Wilma; they call themselves the Quilting Circle. Still, the most powerful person in town is a man, the mean-spirited banker Clem Tucker, Wilma’s so-called Fiancé in Perpetuity. The series formula is well-established. The town is experiencing a crisis. Vernon shows up and defuses it, in ways just short of the supernatural, while engaging one of the principals in a Socratic dialogue about ontology. This time there are two crises. A long drought is forcing family farmers into bankruptcy. Secondly, Clem’s skin cancer has metastasized, and a major operation looms. Clem asks Vernon for a cure. Vernon agrees to pray for his recovery, but not the rain; the tab is $75 million (Clem has deep pockets). Meanwhile the two spar over that old chestnut: If God is omnipotent, how can we exercise free will? Some of the townspeople are seriously upset that Vernon won’t heal Clem and bring rain, but the hullabaloo seems contrived in view of the mystery man’s past good deeds. As the female sheriff says: “We need to shut up and let the man do his work.” Shaffner introduces one new element. Vernon is accompanied on this visit by three widows, his surrogates in helping the numerous townspeople with their problems. Like their leader, they have mysterious pasts (theirs originate in 16th-century England), but in the here-and-now they add little to the story. Shaffner throws in some nifty surprises before Vernon leaves town again.
The author’s formula is beginning to feel shopworn, though the fast pace and plot twists should keep fans involved.