Back Roads

Magnolia Sky

Promises to Keep by Susan Crandall
(Warner, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-446-61411-4
Molly Boudreau is a doctor and the youngest of three siblings whose father owns and runs a tavern in Glens Crossing, Indiana. Molly is the apple of her father’s eye. She works in Boston and donates time to a charity clinic. She meets Sarah Morgan there. Sarah is pregnant and unlike the many other pregnant patients Molly meets: Sarah is older and more assured. The two women establish a tentative friendship outside the clinic.

Sarah arrives at the clinic in the late stages of labor. There is no time to transport her to a hospital, and Molly delivers the baby boy. Molly asks about the father, but Sarah says he is “evil” and doesn’t want him to know about her baby, Nicholas, or to be named as the father on the birth certificate. Molly and Nicholas are taken to the hospital but disappear.

A couple of days later Sarah appears at Molly’s apartment. She asks Molly to care for Nicholas briefly so that she can take care of matters to make Nicholas safe. Molly reluctantly agrees. She learns on the TV news that Sarah is dead and knows that Nicholas is at risk. She immediately sets out with the baby for Glens Crossing even though her actions amount to kidnapping.

Dean Coletta is a reporter whose assignments have taken him all over the world. Returning to New York, he discovers that his sister Julie has been reported missing. He pursues leads himself and eventually identifies the body of a Jane Doe in Boston as his sister. The autopsy has revealed she had recently given birth, but there is no sign of a baby. Dean is determined to solve his sister’s murder. He is able to link her to the clinic and Dr. Molly Boudreau. Dean follows Molly to Glens Crossing but doesn’t reveal his true reason for being there. He says that he’s doing a series on small town America. He believes that Molly and his sister probably became friends because they were pregnant at the same time.

Things haven’t worked out in Glens Crossing as Molly had hoped. She announces that Nicholas is her own child and that the father is not in the picture. Her father and sister Lily are shocked and unsupportive. Molly is still terrified for Nicholas but knows that she has to establish a life as a single mother in order to support them; she cannot stay holed up in the house forever.

Molly isn’t the only Boudreau with a secret, and Lily’s son Riley is having his own problems.

Promises to Keep is the fourth in a loosely connected series. Molly is the sister of the heroine of the second book, Road Home, and of the hero in the third, Magnolia Sky. This book stands well on its own, but the plot of Road Home figures into it. Riley, Molly’s nephew, is the main character in a subplot, and the conflict in the earlier book is finally resolved in this latest installment.

The most convincing aspects of the story are Molly’s fears and growing attachment to Nicholas. In an unnecessary plot development, Molly is probably infertile, and Nicholas may be her only chance at motherhood. Molly’s devotion to the baby’s safety, however, is sufficient motivation for her actions without the added complication of infertility.

For a man who makes his living being an investigative reporter, Dean can be pretty dense. He knows his sister had a baby very recently and it’s missing; Molly has a little baby. Yet not once does it cross his mind that maybe Molly has his sister’s baby. At least he’s astute enough to quickly get over the notion that Molly had anything to do with Julie’s death. Molly is virtue and goodness personified, and Dean has the sense to recognize her worth. Their romance is sweet, and Dean’s dilemma about what to do about Nicholas once he learns the truth is believable.

The “big city – bad, small town – good” theme is common in romances. The small town life in Promises to Keep is by and large so wholesome it’s no wonder that Molly envisions Nicholas growing up there. A more unexpected plot twist is how Molly’s father is disappointed in her and she is tarred with the “fallen woman” reputation.

Unfortunately, Molly’s story is sometimes overshadowed by the troubles other members of the Boudreau clan are having. Lily’s worry of how she’s going to tell Riley the truth doesn’t equal Molly’s fears for Nicholas’s safety, but it gets a large amount of attention.

Even for readers who are new to the series, Molly Boudreau is an appealing heroine. For her sake alone, Promises to Keep can be a good choice.

--Lesley Dunlap

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