Where to start with why I didn't like this book. Let's start with the fact that I was invested in the characters from the beginning. I cared about what happened to them and after the last book I felt confident that things would work out as the author led this reader to believe.
Then she yanked the rug out from under me. I don't like authors to set up relationships only to start jerking them around. Call me dull, but I like a certain ... not predictability, but continuity. So nothing was going to end up the way she led me to believe at the end of the first book. Certain heartbreak - most undeserved - was on the cards for a major character, when suddenly the author introduces, if not an outright deus ex machina, then one hell of a coincidence, and happiness ever after is magically guaranteed for everyone. Even I had a hard time swallowing this one.
The Road to Cardinal Valley focuses on Ruby's dysfunctional mess of a younger brother, an alcoholic with hepatitis who has no desire to sober up. What follows is just enough codependency to thoroughly irritate me. I could care less about Ruby's brother by about mid-way, but in another stretch-too-far, it all works out in the end with an act of redemption that coincidentally solves everyone's problems.
Earlene Fowler writes a top-notch mystery that I'd happily recommend to anyone who likes traditional mysteries with strong, heartfelt characters. But she was definitely trying something new here and, for me at least, it just didn't work.