Con Riley

At one point in this book, one of the characters explains, “Salvage is everything we keep here—old things that can be used again by a different owner. Sometimes, finding out about where all these things came from, and about the people who might have first used them, is worth far more than treasure.” As far as a short general synopsis goes, this character’s words sum up the book best.

Unemployed Gabe Cooper reluctantly leaves his best friend Jamie in San Diego and flies to Minnesota to help his father after the older man’s heart attack. Gabe knows his dad, who blames Gabe for his sister Ariel’s accident, will be just as judgmental and silent around him as he was before Gabe left for California. But he loves his dad and can’t let him struggle at the salvage yard himself.

Shortly after Gabe returns, Scott Stark comes into the salvage yard looking for his missing niece, Emma. Scott has assumed the care of his autistic nephew Josh and niece Emma when Scott’s sister was arrested as a co-conspirator in her husband’s investment scam. As an unmarried gay man who wasn’t close to his sister, her husband, or his niece and nephew, Scott is way over his head as their guardian, but he just couldn’t let the state take the children and put them in foster care.

After they locate the girl and calm the children down, Gabe, Ariel, and their dad Coop befriend the hapless Scott who is now living in the Stark family’s neglected summer home down the road from them. Since the salvage company specializes in architectural castoffs, Gabe helps Scott refurbish the house and make it livable again.

Like all of Riley’s novels, this one is multi-layered with family problems on both Gabe’s and Scott’s part. Adding in the children and Gabe’s unhealthy relationship with Jamie makes the story richer and deeper. Neither Gabe nor Scott is looking for love or romance, so their connection is a welcome surprise, and they find the problems they’re dealing with are suddenly easier to handle when both of them work on them.

Gabe is the kind of dependable, steady guy who made one mistake in his life and has to live with it until he ultimately can forgive himself as everyone else in his family has. He’s been a mainstay for his fun-loving friend Jamie and a hard-working college student. In running away from Minnesota, he was in fact running away from himself and his mistake. Coming back forces him to face what actually happened and to decide how he can live with the memories.

Scott, like Gabe, has dropped everything in his life to come to the aid of his family. Readers will find themselves not only sympathetic when he interacts with the children but empathetic when he battles to nurse them through colds and flu, especially since he ends up catching both and becoming even more muddled in his handling of the kids.

With all of this going on (Scott’s immersion in parenting, Gabe’s relationship with the alcoholic Jamie, Gabe’s remorse over his sister’s accident, Gabe’s relationship with his father), the story occasionally gets muddled. At times I had to take a breath and realign myself because I wasn’t sure which story thread I was now following. Fortunately, Riley quickly threw me a life-line so that I could keep reading and enjoying the book.

Readers new to Riley will find a wealth of riches here and will relish old plotlines salvaged to shine as new again.

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