The Girl Most Likely To...

Hot Nights in Ballymuir

Hot Whispers of an Irishman
by Dorien Kelly
(Pocket, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-6460-5
I donít usually comment on titles, but whoever chose this one should have their book-naming privileges revoked. And, excepting the possible bridge metaphor, the cover illustration has nothing to do with the story. My point? Doesnít seem like anyone at Pocket was paying attention to whatís inside this book, which is a shame because they might have been able to help a writer of Ms. Kellyís skills turn this average story into something really compelling.

Violet Kilbride returns to Duncarraig to sell her beloved grandmotherís cottage. To Viís consternation, Liam Rafferty is also visiting Duncarraig. Her first love (and first lover), Liam is now a divorced dad, parenting his defiant 12-year-old daughter while his ex-wife works in the Middle East.

Liam is also trying to figure out how to save his marine salvage business and not go to jail. Apparently, his business partner was engaging in piracy while Liam wasnít looking. Not only is the business about to go under, but itís only a matter of time before the subpoenas start to arrive. Liam has hope, however; heís recently found evidence that the fabled Raffertyís gold actually exists and is hidden on the land Vi inherited from her nan. Finding the gold would certainly solve his financial problems.

The first thing I noticed about this book is that the author does a marvelous job of using language to convey Irish speech. She does not club readers with misspelled words masquerading as dialect. Brava.

Another excellent element is the vivid cast of secondary characters. They all leap off the page Ė even the ones, like Viís grandmother, who arenít actually there. Likable or not, they have big personalities and make the town feel like a real place.

Unfortunately, the author uses them as filler rather than making them crucial to the unfolding of the story. They provide color but most donít much affect the course of the story.

For example, Liamís daughter, Meghan, is an obnoxious brat. Sheís realistically rendered, which means itís no more fun for the reader to spend time with her than it is for Liam, but we do see the hero struggle to make contact with the daughter whoís a stranger. Then, with a quarter of the book still to go, Meghan leaves and the story continues as if she had never existed. As a reader, I then wonder why I had to spend so much time with this snotty child if she could simply drop out of the story without leaving a ripple?

Liam is a complex and interesting character in every way except the most important one Ė his relationship with Vi. After not seeing her for nearly seventeen years, he instantly falls back into lust with her, and very unsubtle lust it is, too. I get that one of the advantages of a Ďsecond chanceí story is that the protagonists already have a relationship, but even if they donít need courtship, I do. Iím here for the romance, folks, and I donít just want sex, I want chemistry and emotional connection.

There was a chance for some interesting conflict over the treasure, but the author skirted it. By the way, the reason Liam believes it belongs to him (even though itís on Kilbride property) is because itís always been called Raffertyís gold. This seemed more than a bit obtuse for a salvage operator.

The least satisfying character is Vi. While Liam has had a life, sheís been living in a perpetual pity party. She stays there until one of her brothers makes a remark that causes an abrupt epiphany. When a character gets all the way to the end of the book, then slaps herself in the forehead and basically says Ďgee, why didnít I think of that?í Ė as a reader, my response is Ďum, yeah, why didnít you?í There really isnít a plot; Liam and Vi walk around wanting each other and talking to people and fighting with their families. Then their problems practically solve themselves. The end.

Ms. Kelly writes effortless, readable prose and creates vibrant characters. She will write a fabulous book when she figures out how to put them to work with a really compelling conflict.

-- Judi McKee

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