My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On some level it would be easy to categorize Charles Martin’s “The Mountain Between Us” as a romance story of old and new love. But doing so would miss part of what makes Martin’s novels all so solid, strong and appealing to readers both male and female. Martin has a knack for creating flawed male characters who, despite those flaws, foibles and imperfections, find believable, real relationships with women who they deeply love.
The latest is Dr. Ben Payne, a high school and college runner who escaped his abusive father via running scholarships and his love for Annie. Ben’s headed home from a medical conference and trying to outrace a snowstorm. In the terminal, he meets Ashley Knox, a reporter on the way home for her wedding. When their flight is canceled due to the weather, Ben hires a small prop plane to get them to their connection flights and home.
Unfortunately, the pilot has a heart attack and the plane crashes on a snow covered mountain in the middle of a national forest. The region is remote and the pilot never filed a flight plan. The only person who knew they were flying this way was the pilot’s wife and she may not miss her husband for a day or so. Ashley suffers a broken leg and Ben some cracked ribs.
The story then becomes one of survival for the two as they try to figure out how to make it out of the wilderness alive. Ben refuses to leave Ashley behind, fearing she’ll succumb to the elements. The two talk and Ben is recording thoughts for his wife on a voice recorder. In these, we see a reflection of his early life and relationship with Annie, leading up to the events here.
To tell more would be to give away some of the surprises of the second half of the book, though if you’re a fan of Martin, what’s happened and happening won’t come as a great shock. If you’ve read his previous novel, “Where the River Ends,” you may have some idea of where it’s all leading, though you won’t necessarily see how Martin will get Ben and the reader there.
The story is a romance and it plays as such. But what makes Martin work is his realistic characters and his flawed, but relate-able first person male protagonists. Ben’s story is one of redemption and forgiveness and the novel doesn’t pull any punches in delving into Ben’s pain. He’s not a perfect guy.
Martin wrote on his blog that he started one project after “River” but abandoned it because it didn’t feel right. He made his readers wait for the “Mountain” so he could get his book right and not betray the trust his audience had in him. While we may have had to wait longer than usual for “Moutanin,” Martin made it worth the wait.