The Love Potion combines the steamy Cajun atmosphere of The Big Easy with the humor of a screwball comedy. When Sylvie Fontaine was twelve years old, swamp rat Lucien LeDeux asked her to dance. Painfully shy, she refused -- and Luc has been the plague of her life ever since. Hiding his feelings for Sylvie under a veneer of swaggering Cajun confidence, Luc can’t help teasing her whenever their paths cross. And their paths cross in hilarious and delightful ways during the course of the novel.
The reserved daughter of a prominent Creole family, Sylvie harbors no illusions about her attractiveness to the opposite sex. Instead of concentrating on what she believes to be her physical failings -- she’s too short, too plump, and resembles a brunette Martha Stewart -- Sylvie has built a reputation as a highly regarded chemist in her hometown of Houma, Louisiana. But for her wealthy and powerful family, it’s not enough. And her current project is not destined to make them any happier.
The self-professed “Swamp Solicitor,” Lucien LeDeux has dug his way out of poverty and a brutal childhood into semi-respectability as a country lawyer. He turns to Sylvie for help when he discovers that a large oil company has been polluting the local water supply. Luc visits Sylvie’s lab hoping that she’ll agree to analyze some water samples, and while pleading his case, tosses back a few jelly beans.
Unfortunately, they’re not ordinary jelly beans.
They’ve been injected with Sylvie’s newest formula, JBX (aka the Jelly Bean Fix). More than a love potion, the jelly beans heighten attraction -- both physical and emotional -- to the person whose enzymes have been injected into the candy (along with some other secret ingredients, of course). Although it only lasts a few weeks, the potion is powerful. And Sylvie’s own enzymes are in this particular batch.
Luc was tossing jelly beans up into the air, one at a time, like peanuts, and catching them in his mouth. She looked quickly at the petri dish at the other end of the table. It was only half full.
And then the media finds out.
Oh, my God!
The bayou bad boy had just scarfed down a double dose of her love potion jelly beans.
“Sylv?” Luc asked with concern. “Your face is turning purple. You having a fit, or something?”
Her scream was probably heard all the way to Lake Pontchartrain.
The laughingstock of the scientific community (“Chemist Invents Love Potion! Love Potion Goes Awry!”), Sylvie wants nothing more than to escape until things quiet down. Bad guys with guns are after Luc because of his interest in corporate ecological misdeeds. What follows is a playful, sexy, and hilarious journey through Louisiana’s swamps, Cajun honky-tonks, and voodoo ceremonies.
In The Love Potion, Sandra Hill creates characters that have depth and more than a dash of Southern quirkiness. Although Luc looks like a typical romantic hero -- tall, dark, and handsome -- he’s not tortured or arrogant. And Sylvie, who loves her pet lab rats and dabbles in voodoo, holds her own. The secondary characters are as wonderfully written. Luc’s brothers, Rene and Remy, will surely have their own books soon. And I relished reading about Luc’s Tante Lulu, who desperately wants him to find a good woman. She peppers his house with statues of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, and gives him a package of heart-dotted boxer shorts to aid his seduction of Sylvie.
The first two-thirds of the novel is terrific, filled with great writing, lots of hilarious details, and characters who behave plausibly. The novel is steeped in descriptions of Cajun food, music, language, and beliefs, which adds to the enjoyment. Only two things bothered me: Why did Luc insist on getting a water sample from inside the oil company’s boundaries, when he already had plenty? I understand that the characters needed to get back to the city somehow, but wasn’t there some other way to do it? And the big finale, in which Sylvie faces her shyness by singing her heart out in a talent contest, just seemed a little too over-the-top.
But disregarding those two slightly improbable episodes, The Love Potion is a terrific read. The next time I’m feeling low and in need of some belly laughs, I’ll be searching out Ms. Hill’s other books.