Her Ideal Man

Meant to Be Married

Reckless

As Barbara Samuel:

The Black Angel

Dancing Moon

Heart of a Knight

 
In the Midnight Rain by Ruth Wind
(Harper, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-103012-0
****
In the Midnight Rain may be all about the blues, but you can color me happy. Another well-respected category and historical author, Ruth Wind (a/k/a Barbara Samuel), has crossed over into the contemporary romance genre, with a novel that owes its success to strong characters and a definite sense of place.

Ellie Connor arrives in the small East Texas town of Pine Bend with a dual agenda. Ostensibly, the successful biographer has come to research the life of Mabel Beauvais, a talented blues singer who mysteriously disappeared forty years ago, just as she was about to break into the limelight. However, Ellie is also interested in finding the truth about her origins. She was raised by her grandmother after her mother, Diane, disappeared when she was only two years old. Ellie never knew her father, but a postcard Diane sent from Pine Bend before she became pregnant indicates that he was a resident of the town.

Through an Internet music newsgroup, Ellie has struck up an acquaintance with fellow blues enthusiast and Pine Bend native Dr. Laurence Reynard, who has offered Ellie and her faithful dog April a home base while she conducts her research. Ellie is immediately attracted to Reynard, who answers to the name "Blue," but she can smell trouble a mile away. Blue is one of those seductive lost souls; women are tempted to save him but wind up instead with broken hearts. Ellie values their friendship and their shared love of music, but she has no intention of taking their relationship to a sexual level, especially when every woman she meets in Pine Bend warns her of Blue's reputation as a "player," a "dog" and basically a love-`em-and-leave-`em heartbreaker.

While Ellie is very definitely not letting herself be seduced by Blue, she's carefully interviewing Pine Bend residents who remember Mabel Beauvais. Her questions are generally met with helpfulness, but she senses that some of the people she talks to know more than they will admit to. She's also quietly picking up clues about the time her mother spent in Pine Bend during the tumultuous Vietnam War era, and narrowing down the list of possible biological fathers. But she gets more than she ever bargained for when the truth about her parentage is finally revealed.

In the Midnight Rain is not fast-paced -- it builds slowly and smoothly, like a sultry blues song. Both Ellie and Blue have been touched by loss and tragedy, but they're strong individuals, not victims. It's refreshing to see a heroine who has been around the block a few times sexually and isn't apologetic about it. Blue may be a ladies' man, but he's tempting -- who could resist a man who grows beautiful orchids as a research project to support preservation of the rain forests? He's a compelling mix of "lost and beautiful, heart of music and flowers."

Other secondary characters are intriguing as well. This novel is the most integrated one I've read in a long time. Black and white characters interact naturally in the daily routine of Pine Bend, and former city resident Ellie eventually realizes she feels completely comfortable with small town Southern life.

There is not much action in this character-driven story, but it's a page-turning pleaser anyway because of the slow build-up to Blue and Ellie's inevitable passion. In a sense, the first 200 pages are foreplay of the best kind --two wounded but strong people fighting off their best instincts and falling in love. Then in the last hundred pages, Midnight Rain becomes even harder to put down, as the mysteries behind Mabel Beauvais' disappearance and Ellie's origins are revealed in ways that are unexpected to even the most astute reader.

I've always been a jazz fan, but my husband lives for the blues. After reading this beautifully written novel, I may have to sit down and listen to some of his favorite music. Any art form that inspires such a strong book must be worthwhile. Welcome to the contemporary side, Ms. Wind/Samuels. Please visit again and often.

--Susan Scribner


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