In brief: The second book in the Bunyip Bay series, this story follows Ruby, damaged from a previous relationship, and Drew, the expat policeman.
The good: The suspense, sense of community, incredible characters and yumminess of Drew.
The not-so-good: I really can’t wait until October for Outback Ghost.
Why I chose it: Love Rachael’s writing, love the local setting – thanks to Harlequin Books for my copy.
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Setting: Western Australia
My rating: 10 out of 10
Rachael Johns’ books never fail to put a smile on my face. Her stories are always brilliantly crafted, with realistic characters and a plot that demands you to sit down and find out what happens! With Outback Blaze, she entered new territory with romantic suspense elements and of course, excels. (The last 50 pages of this book had me reading with one hand, and brushing my teeth with the other. I just had to know what happened).
Outback Blaze is the second story set in Bunyip Bay, a coastal rural town in Western Australia and an area I know well. You can read this book as a standalone very happily, or after the first book in the series (Outback Dreams). As a devotee of Outback Dreams, I really enjoyed revisiting the characters I new, as well as meeting new ones (the Bunyip Bay police are definitely fun characters!). The story revolves around Ruby, whose parents own the town’s Ag Store (that’s where the farmers go to get their stuff, like pesticides and drenches) and Drew, the hunky new policeman direct from the UK. Ruby is a relative newcomer to Bunyip Bay, returning to live with her parents after the end of a relationship, but she’s done well in setting up a horse riding school and becoming involved in community activities. Drew is somewhat of an outsider – his idea of policing is different to that of his laidback colleagues, but his physique hasn’t escaped the notice of the local ladies. So when Drew is volunteered by his sergeant to take part in the town’s Undies Run for charity, hearts are aflutter. Only thing is, nobody told Drew that undies mean underwear only…
It’s in the middle of a photo shoot for the men of the Undies Run that the Ag Store catches fire. The town watches as the store burns to the ground and immediately arson is suspected. Was it the young offenders Drew has been helping to rehabilitate? Was it Ruby’s parents? Who has a vendetta against Ruby and her parents? Could it be one of the townspeople? Rumours and suspicions set the town alight and divide the citizens. Ruby finds Drew to be one of her biggest allies – but could he be something more? Drew’s not interested in a relationship and Ruby certainly doesn’t want a repeat of her previous one. Could the damaged pair heal each other?
In between Ruby and Drew circling each other are a number of mysteries, mainly surrounding the fire. I found these fascinating because I simply could not work out who the culprit was! There were some great red herrings – even I was suspicious after two of the suspects just disappeared from Bunyip Bay. As for the real culprit, I certainly didn’t see it coming – their reason for doing what they did initially seemed a bit odd, but really fit in with their character. The narrative really sped up as the culprit was revealed in a tense situation – it’s a section that I just did not want to stop reading.
Another thing that Rachael nails in this story is the feeling of the small rural community. She shows the caring side (such as the way Ruby’s family receive a ton of food after the fire) but also shows the negative side. The town is so close knit, that once Ruby’s family is suspected of ‘doing an insurance job’ on the Ag Store, she is completely shunned. People she is friends with, families she teaches riding to, completely shun her without a fair trial. It shows how the community protects their own, but also how some can be quick to ostracise.
I can’t finish this review without talking about the romance between Drew and Ruby. While I thought I was head over heels for Monty in Outback Dreams, I may have to rethink my loyalties after getting to know Drew. He’s a great character – kind, driven and loyal. His dedication to helping Ruby heal and investigating the arson on his own time is very sweet – almost swoon worthy. Ruby’s not too bad herself – she’s kept quiet about some previous traumatic experiences and has a deep loyalty to try to protect her parents, as well as support and feed Drew. The romance was believable with a hint of spice.
I’d highly recommend Rachael Johns as THE author if you want to try the rural romance genre. Her books are always well plotted (with more than romance) with fantastic characters.