The Bequest

The Last Knight

Night in Eden

September Moon

Whispers of Heaven

Midnight Confessions by Candice Proctor
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-345-44717-4
An unusual setting, an interesting heroine, a puzzling mystery, a heroic hero - all this should have made Midnight Confessions a sure winner. Moreover, Midnight Confessions has one of the most imaginative epilogues I have yet come across. But all the above do not make a great historical romance if the love story doesn’t quite work. Sadly, such is the case with Candice Proctor’s new release.

First, the setting. Midnight Confessions is set in New Orleans in 1862. The city has recently fallen to the Northern army and the infamous “Beast” Butler is making the inhabitants suffer, both personally and financially. The hero is Major Zachary Cooper, a West Point graduate who has been assigned to serve as Provost Marshall until his wounds heal and he can return to his cavalry regiment. His official duties include dealing with crime so it is not surprising that he is called to a cemetery when a prominent physician is murdered via an unlikely weapon, a cross-bow.

Dr. Henri Santerre had been accompanied on this visit to his wife’s grave by Mme. Emmanuelle de Beauvais, who had worked with him at the hospital founded by the victim and her late husband. The daughter of a doctor, Emmanuelle is herself a skilled healer, although she cannot practice medicine herself. Her presence at the murder scene brings her under some suspicion and to the attention of Major Cooper. Yet there is a real possibility that she, not her mentor, was the killer’s target.

Emmanuelle’s husband had been killed during a daring attempt to carry money out of New Orleans to the Confederate army. He had been betrayed to the enemy. Needless to say, Emmanuelle, like most of the women of New Orleans is not fond of the Union soldiers. She is loathe to cooperate with the investigation, even when two other people associated with the hospital also meet violent ends.

For his part, Major Cooper is determined to discover the culprit. His investigation brings him into frequent contact with the lovely widow and his admiration for her as a person grows. For her part, Emmanuelle despises the men who have conquered her city but finds the major, unlike his superior, honest and honorable. He is also decidedly attractive and, despite her relatively recent widowhood, Emmanuelle is drawn to him.

Proctor succeeds admirably in bringing 19th century New Orleans, with all its lush beauty and contradictions, vividly to life. She has a real gift for evoking a place and immersing the reader in a very different milieu. Her descriptions of the physical and social world of the time are first rate.

Emmanuelle had married into the Creole aristocracy even though her own origins were less exalted. The snobbishness and family pride that characterize these people play a role in the mystery. Then as now New Orleans was a place of sensuality and dark magic. These too are important to the story. Major Cooper finds himself in a world far removed from his New England roots.

For all its strengths, Midnight Confessions doesn’t quite work as a romance. While the hero’s attraction to the lovely Emmanuelle is quite understandable, her response is less comprehensible. Yes, her marriage was not a success, but she is after all a very recent widow who is a southern patriot and who despises the Yankees. She does not trust Zachary for she is not at all forthcoming with information which might help him solve the murders. Yet she feels this passionate physical attraction. It just doesn’t work, at least for me.

I have read all of Candice Proctor’s books; indeed she is an auto-buy for me. I find it interesting that her American-set romances don’t seem quite as good as her Australian stories. Perhaps my disappointment with Midnight Confessions results from my high expectations for this author. Whatever the cause, I find that I can rate this novel simply as acceptable.

--Jean Mason

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