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Midnight in Ruby Bayou

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Three and one half moon gifWilliam Morrow (Hardcover), ISBN 0-380-97405-3
Midnight in Ruby Bayou, a romantic mystery by Elizabeth Lowell, combines Gone With the Wind-esque Southern elements with a contemporary setting.

Book: Elizabeth Lowell, Midnight in Ruby BayouInstead of Tara, the crumbling Montegeau mansion sits on the verdant edge of Ruby Bayou. Owen Walker, a Rhett Butler stand-in, revisits the haunts of his painful bayou childhood while fulfilling his duties as protector and champion of the Faith -- Faith Donovan that is, the feisty Yankee version of Scarlet O'Hara.

Faith, a respected jewelry designer, agrees to craft an original necklace for the newest Montegeau bride using 13 magnificent heirloom rubies from the Montageau family collection. Rubies -- blood red, passionate, expensive -- tie the crumbling status of the Montegeaus to the multi-millionaire Donovan family and bring an element of international intrigue to this Southern setting. Those same rubies may cost lives as a shadowy, murderous figure will stop at nothing to possess them.

Lowell, however, stopped short of elevating this multi-faceted mystery-romance to the Margaret Mitchell level. Shying away from a more hard-edged realism, Lowell opted to stay in the shimmery world of love, romance and happily-ever-after. Still, being compared to Gone With the Wind puts Midnight in Ruby Bayou in aristocratic company, and testifies to the quality of Lowell's writing, her captivating story and characters.

Book: Elizabeth Lowell, Pearl CoveThose characters -- a whisper away from stereotypes -- include a villain with no redeeming virtues and the virtuous heroine who hides no dark side. The dotty aunt and Montegeau patriarch provide the quirkiness and local color required in every story of the old South. Once they enter the story, the pace and level of reader interest noticeably improve. The Montegeau bride's and groom's relationship seems incomplete, missing elements that would make it more believable. But Walker and Faith flirt closest to words made flesh. Their sexual tension adds another enjoyable element, and their complicated family relationships and background give more depth to their characters.

The storyline -- like a fragrant, old, wisteria vine -- twists and blooms, filling the book with a sweet scent that readers happily follow to the last page. Although not a Southern classic, Midnight in Ruby Bayou gives readers much to enjoy, beginning with an insightful look at rubies -- the mining, history, trade, cutting and mystery of these rare and wonderful jewels. The book furthers the story of the Donovan family outlined in Lowell's Amber Beach, Jade Island, and Pearl Cove. Perhaps best of all, Lowell gives us a mystery that spans generations with a solution that uncovers old crimes and family secrets. And she creates families we want to know more intimately.

Dawn Goldsmith

Fans of Elizabeth Lowell may also wish to check out Crescent Blues reviews of Pearl Cove by Gina Hodges Martin and Doris Valliant.

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