Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blue Bayou by JoAnn Ross ****

This is the first of a trilogy in a 3fer book I just got at Hastings new. I had the 3 books on my PBS reminder list because someone had posted positively about them. I was also interested in them because they take place in south Louisiana, which is where I spent my formative years (ages 2-15).

My father likes to say, in reference to his being transferred to south Louisiana in the late 50s, that it was his first foreign post. (We went on to live in south and central America.) Since I was pretty young when we moved from Texas, where my ancestors had been since the mid-19th century, I didn't have much to compare to at the time. I can now say, in all confidence, he had a good point - south Louisiana isn't like anywhere else, and that's for sure.

I'm pleased to say the author did manage to get the Cajun patois and the sense of living on the bayou pretty much right, if my own memory serves. I do have one minor quibble about her initial references to seeing weather "over the Gulf" because I'm not sure there's anyplace you can live in a plantation home, on the bayou, and also see the actual Gulf of Mexico. Even the geography of Louisiana is different from any other state - it's not long stretches of beach like Mississippi or Texas, but bayous and swamps draining into the river delta. Ok, minor quibble, it's just that I tried to imagine the setting and couldn't make the Gulf come into play.

But I do remember pirogues and people speaking English with French influence ("me, I'm gonna pass by the store"). It was all a mystery to me then why people talked so funny.

The author also slipped in a couple of French phrases I had to scratch my head about - I'm no French expert but I usually can read Cajun and French phrases in books with my limited French and Cajun background. Again, minor quibbles, but those are the kinds of things that jerk me out of stories, like some grammar mistakes and typos (see previous post).

In this story, Jack Callahan is of Cajun and Irish descent, and grew up in Blue Bayou as a sort of juvenile delinquent. Judge Dupree, a tough but fair fellow, sent Jack to juvenile detention to get him straightened out, and it apparently worked well enough. Jack learned a lot in his stay there and at age 18, had plans for a better future. Unfortunately, the judge's willful 17-year-old daughter Danielle had other plans for Jack and managed to convince him to act on their mutual chemistry, with some unplanned results. When Jack and Dani were discovered in the act by the local sheriff, the judge steps in and changes the course of both their lives, a sort of evil Gepetto.

First the judge convinces Jack to leave the parish for good by threatening to fire Jack's widowed mother, who is the judge's housekeeper. Soon after, when Dani reveals her pregnancy, he sends her to a home for unwed mothers, where he forces her to give up her child for adoption, except the infant dies. Then the judge arranges for Dani to marry an up and coming young politician, and move to Washington D.C. The fellow turns out to be a philandering good-for-nothing, leaves her (and their young son) for another woman and then is killed in a freak accident.

It's 13 years after Jack and Dani parted. Jack has returned to Blue Bayou after being an undercover DEA agent and is now a bestselling author. He managed to buy the Dupree family home, Beau Soleil, and is renovating it. But his past still haunts him.

After her husband's death, Dani and her son Matt have nothing - he managed to clean out their bank accounts and leave them with a pile of debt. She packs up what is left and heads back to Blue Bayou, thinking to introduce Matt to his grandfather and try to start her life over again. The plan includes picking the judge up when he's released from Angola where he's serving a 7 year sentence for bribery.

The story revolves around Dani and Jack having to resolve their differences, reveal their pasts and come to grips with the still-existing strong chemistry between them. By the way, if Big Mis/Secret Baby plots annoy you, skip this one, because it's key.

I enjoyed the story, mostly, although I did find Ms Ross uses an awful lot of similes, almost to the point where you wish she would just stick in a plain adjective or maybe just say what she means. Blood blossoming like a field of scarlet poppies. Eyes as red-veined as a Louisiana road map. Memories lingered like bits of Spanish moss clinging to a long-dead cypress. Maybe it's like spice - the right amount enhances the flavor, and, well, you go ahead and figure out your own simile for using too much spice, ok? Me, I think she used a tetch too much.

In all, I rank it 4 stars in my personal rating system. Plus, as a bonus, it fits a category in the Fall 2008 Reading Challenge, a title with a place in the name - whoo hoo!

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