After All

Sweet Mystery

A Time to Love

Gotta Get Next to You
by Lynn Emery
(Harper Torch, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81304-1
Gotta Get Next to You is the story of Andrea Noble, a recent divorcee who has left Chicago to return to her hometown of Bayou Blue, Louisiana. Andrea has come home to assume the directorship of the local health clinic.

In recent years, the clinic had been plagued by indifferent management, lackadaisical staff, political cronyism and drug theft. But Andrea is determined to restore the clinic’s reputation, professionalism and staff morale. Her primary goal is for the clinic to meet the health care needs of Bayou Blue’s low-income residents. After a tense introductory community meeting, Andrea gets to work. She knows that all eyes -- both in and out of the clinic -- are on her.

Prior to Andrea’s return to Bayou Blue, the clinic’s board of directors retained private investigator Lee Matthews to look into the difficulties at the clinic. Lee has taken a job at the facility using the alias “Jamal Turner.” He is to use his position as a computer specialist and clerk to learn first-hand how serious the clinic’s problems are and who is responsible for causing them. Lee’s first task is to get to know his new boss, Andrea Noble.

The once-bitten, twice-shy Andrea is physically attracted to Lee/Jamal. But she has determined that he suffers from the terrible toos. He is too good-looking and too self-confident to mean anything but trouble for any suspecting woman. And, although Andrea is unaware of Lee’s true identity and mission, she has determined she knows enough about him to keep her distance.

Lee is also attracted to Andrea. Emery develops the chemistry between Andrea and Lee quite naturally. (Or as naturally as the transparent schemes of Andrea’s matchmaking grandmother will allow.) Both Lee and Andrea have been victimized by former spouses and are extremely battle-weary. Lee is cautiously optimistic about a relationship with Andrea because of his bitter divorce and because she may be a suspect in his investigation. His greatest personal conflict centers around the impact his growing attraction to and relationship with Andrea is having on his objectivity. By comparison, Andrea’s misgivings often border on a player-hating crusade. She does not dislike Lee, but the “type” of man she assumes he is.

There is a mystery, of sorts, to be solved. However, the development of it is weak and the resolution was somewhat flat. Near the end of the novel the subplot often got in the way of the relationship between the two main characters. It is the cast of secondary characters that give Gotta Get Next to You its points of interest, strength and color. Andrea’s mother and grandmother are natural scene stealers.

That said, Gotta Get Next to You contains all the elements I have come to enjoy in a Lynn Emery romance. There are picturesque descriptions of the Louisiana setting, distinctive local language, political machinations and family secrets. The romance will appeal to Lynn Emery fans.

Gotta Get Next to You is Lynn Emery’s first romance for Harper Collins. It is the second of four releases by the Harper Torch imprint’s new African-American Romance Series. Gotta Get Next to You marks a new phase in the author’s career and is worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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