I suspect that what the author aimed for with Bad Karma was something along the lines of Twin Peaks – there is the small American village whose quaintness might just be facade for its sinister aspects, and which is populated with likeable, quirky characters who just might be serial murders in their spare time. The novel has humour, it has supernatural elements, it has suspense, it has a few moments of bizarre surrealism and it has main characters who hide a heavily damaged psyche behind the smooth surface they present to the world.
Unfortunately, the different elements do not cohere all that well: Instead of a single narrative braid that would show off the variety of multi-coloured strands it was woven from, it comes across as an embroidery with various bits and parts sticking out but which do not form into a picture or pattern but only make up a confusing jumble of colours. But while the novel was a bit disappointing in that it did not manage to transcend the sum of its parts, it has to be said that those parts taken for themselves are actually rather good, and I definitely never grew bored while reading Bad Karma.
One thing does stand out in particular, though, and that is Theresa Weir’s portrait of the novel’s heroine, or more precisely, of her mental illness. As is gradually revealed over the course of the novel, she is suffering from a severe trauma after a car accident she thinks she caused, and while there are very many traumatized protagonists in Romance fiction, I do not think I have ever before seen it done this well. with Cleo is fully aware of her problems and is suffering under that awareness, trying to appear normal to others even as her symptoms keep slipping through, beyond her control – the novel’s description is spot-on without glamourizing or glossing over. Also, her problems do not magically disappear in the end, even after she has found her Happily Ever After, but the author leaves no doubt that she will have to continue to struggle with them, but will now be able to to cope, thanks to her newly-discovered strength and with the help of the male protagonist (who also has a dark past but which, by contrast, gets disappointingly short shrift).