Fame is destructive. It has the power to build someone up, bringing them money and work and admiration and ego. It’s addictive. It’s powerful. Cilla McGowan, granddaughter of legendary actress Janet Hardy and daughter of self-absorbed actress Dilly, is close companions with the elusive drug of notoriety. It’s in her blood. As a former child actress herself, she also knows the consequences of celebrity; it shattered her parents’ marriage and marred her formative years. Now an adult, she strives for some semblance of normality, some structure and stability. She finds it, quite literally, in rehabbing houses. And she’s beginning to find it in love.
Plot Overview: Love, Longing and Dreams
Cilla McGowan is a mix of contradictions: she has lived the high life but finds herself seeking the ordinary; she has that savoir-faire, but she can be hopelessly naïve about her own safety; she craves the comfort of an intact family, but she doesn’t believe in marriage. In short, Cilla is jaded. Vulnerable.
When she settles in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to start the rehab of her grandmother’s house, Cilla is, for the first time in a long time, at home. Her father and his second wife are nearby, she’s making friends, and she can feel her grandmother’s presence in the home.
One afternoon, Cilla finds a stack of letters in the attic, letters that detail Janet’s affair with a married man – and her previously unmentioned pregnancy. Intrigued, Cilla starts to poke around, curious about whether her grandmother’s suicide was, in fact, a suicide, and who the mystery man might be.
Ford Sawyer, a graphic novelist, lives across the street from Janet Hardy’s crumbling masterpiece. He and his endearingly ugly dog, Spock, gradually win over the reluctant Cilla, and the neighbors strike up a friendship. At first. As they find themselves falling in love – Ford, thrilled, Cilla, terrified – someone else has his eyes on the ingénue. He doesn’t appreciate the amateur investigating, the digging up of old loves, old wounds. And in the case of Janet and Cilla’s family, violence will certainly beget violence if Cilla doesn’t stop her sleuthing.
Criticisms and Compliments
Roberts has an innate sense for what is trendy, what is popular, what is marketable. Before the Twilight series, there was the The Circle Trilogy (vampires, witches, warriors), the The Three Sisters Island Trilogy (witches) and The Sign of Seven Trilogy (demons). Before the fascination with risky jobs (check out a recent feature in the May 2013 issue of Marie Claire), there was Chasing Fire (smoke jumping). And before the explosion of DIY projects and blogging (e.g. YoungHouseLove), there was Tribute (and later, the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy). For whatever reason, many female readers are intrigued by the idea of makeovers, of crafting and creating. Tribute, though it may revolve primarily around death, love and family, is incredibly entertaining if just for the chronicling of Cilla’s house-flipping efforts. It’s a nice little piece of what is already a good read.
The best part of a mystery, and despite its feminine flourishes, Tribute is a murder mystery, is the reveal of the killer. Traditionally, there are several red herrings, and the murderer is unmasked in a climactic moment by the protagonist, usually when he or she is caught in the killer’s web. Sometimes, the exposure of the antagonist is satisfying, assuming the reader guessed correctly; occasionally, the identity is predictable and disappointing; and every now and then, it is a huge surprise. The “who” whodunit is an intimate acquaintance, a family member, a woman rather than a man, a child rather than an adult. The question of the killer in Tribute – and whether Cilla’s grandmother did indeed commit suicide or not – has a delicious, scandalous answer.
Tribute is a satisfying read that incorporates all that appeals to female readers: DIY, romantic love, family, fame, fortune and suspense. Pick it up. (Also, the Lifetime movie isn’t bad either, though Brittany Murphy has some weird eyebrow action going on in it.)
- Roberts, Nora. Tribute. Putnam Adult, 2008 ISBN 9780399154911