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Sweet Mystery by Lynn Emery
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7860-0563-7
****
Vincent Dalcour, Henry Jove and Joseph St. Cyr grew up together in Belle Rose, Louisiana. Despite the differences in their social status, the three men became close friends who shared a dream to build a cannery in their hometown. Their idea for a Black-owned business that would create jobs for the town was a source of pride for the entire community.

The trio worked hard and managed to save $7,000 in just four years. It was an enormous sum to accumulate in the 1940s. The people of Belle Rose lent their financial support to the project and contributed whatever they could spare to make up the difference. One day in 1948, Vincent Dalcour, $10,000 in cash and Henry Jove's wife Estelle vanished along with the hopes of Belle Rose's Black community. Vincent Dalcour was branded a home-wrecking thief who had defrauded his business partners and his neighbors. Succeeding generations of Dalcours were whispered about and despised while the Joves and St. Cyrs were well-respected and prosperous.

Sweet Mystery begins fifty years after the scandal. Raenette Marie Dalcour has returned to Belle Rose after a successful career as a blues guitarist with the Bon Temps Band. Rae has come home from the road following the death of her father, Lucien. "The gods visit the sins of the father upon the children." Lucien Dalcour, who believed in his father's innocence, died a bitter man under the weight of the family scandal. Rae has left the band on the road. She is committed to two promises she made to her father before he died: restoring the dilapidated juke joint he once ran and clearing her grandfather's name.

Rae's task is not an easy one. The town has a long memory. Her brothers are skeptical that her missions will succeed. The 50-year-old Jove-Dalcour feud shows no signs of ending particularly when Rae shows more than a passing interest in Simon St. Cyr, the ex-husband of her lifelong adversary Toya Jove.

Sweet Mystery is Lynn Emery's fourth novel. As in her earlier works, Emery returns to the picturesque Louisiana landscape with a steamy tale of family secrets and machinations. There is a nod to environmental issues in the bayou. Her characters are very well-drawn and the author has skillfully captured the colorful Louisiana dialect and idioms. Emery has also captured the inner workings of the small-town grapevine: "She told Mrs. Broussard, who has coffee with the second cousin of my grandmother's best friend who told..."

Readers of Emery's extremely popular novel, Night Magic, will recognize the names of several characters from that novel. Rae Dalcour is the cousin of Savannah St. Julien-Honore, Night Magic's heroine. The sexual tension between Rae and Simon is like good Louisiana gumbo: hot, meaty and spicy.

However, Sweet Mystery is not without flaws. There are a few loose ends and a big clue to the mystery is revealed too early in the story for my liking. There are a couple continuity problems in the novel. For example, the hero meets a secondary character for the first time -- twice. Despite its imperfections, I liked Sweet Mystery and recommend it.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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