April 13, 2004

Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts

Midnight Bayou coverThis is the second book in my foray into the world of the romance novel following Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me. I was reading it on the flight down to CA a couple of weeks ago and Becky expressed some embarassment at being seen with me ;-) The big pink "ROMANCE" sticker from the library might have had something to do with this.

The book starts off in 1899. Abigail is a house maid who fell in love with and married one of the twin sons of the household, much to the chagrin of the matriarch of the family. In the first chapter she is raped and murdered by the other (evil) twin and the crime is covered up by said twin and his mother. For some reason they can't bring themselves to similarly dispose of the woman's infant daughter.

The second chapter is set in 2002 and introduces Declan, a wealthy Boston lawyer who has ditched a woman he didn't love within days of going to the altar. He also dropped out of his law practice, and moved to Louisiana to work full time at restoring an old house he fell in love with on a spring break trip to New Orleans years before. Of course it is the same house as in chapter 1. Of course it is haunted.

To Roberts's credit, the plot takes some twists as it moves along that make it more interesting than this cliched setup would suggest. Her writing is clean and encourages plowing through the chapter breaks.

It's a very different book from Crusie's modern romantic comedy, but it's fascinating how many similarities there are between the two books.

  • Both have a wedding of minor characters in planning throughout that occurs coincident with the climax of the other action in the book.
  • Both have a main character, on seeing their love interest for the first time, hearing an inner voice saying words to the effect of "this one!".
  • Both have interactions with the dysfunctional parents of the principals.
  • Both have what I see as an inordinate amount of description of clothing and decor.
  • Both have some degree of supernatural implication that the characters should be together. (Bet Me has some strong coincidences, Bayou has more explicit appearance of fate. Descendants of the ghosts and reincarnations of them all get mixed up together.)
  • Both have a close family member of one of the couple being charmed by the other member.
  • Both have extraordinarily beautiful and charming leading men.
  • Both have leading women who are described as being less than stunning (Min in Bet Me is always described as overweight, Lena in Bayou is first described by the sentence "She wasn't beautiful, not in any classic sense.") and yet through the eyes of their leading men they are goddesses.

I'm not trying to draw any conclusions about the genre based on a sample of two, but the similarities are interesting.

Some of the most creative stuff in this book happens in its last third, but since I like to keep these reviews as spoiler-free as possible I'll have to just say that some novel twists rescue the story from banality.

Posted by jeffy at April 13, 2004 08:28 PM

Some recommendations for your next romance: Georgette Heyer (I think my all-time favorite), Mary Balogh (esp her older Signet Regencies), Mary Jo Putney.

Posted by: Anita Rowland at April 14, 2004 06:19 AM

Thanks, Anita. Rachel's got two more in the queue, one each by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Julia Quinn. Seems I've heard Heyer highly recommended before, but your other two are new names to me. It's been kind of fun reading outside my comfort zone.

Posted by: jeffy at April 14, 2004 11:20 PM