Friday, October 17, 2008

Magnolia Moon by JoAnn Ross *****

This is the 3rd story in the Callahan Brothers Trilogy, and it's the story of Nate Callahan, the youngest of the 3 brothers from Blue Bayou, Louisiana.

Nate's been the stay-at-home guy all along. While older brothers Jack and Finn played cops and robbers as kids, Nate was dragging wood out of the bayou - he likes to say it was so he could build the jail for those robbers. He was athletic too, and went as far away as Tulane (my alma mater!) on an athletic scholarship, but came home to take care of his mother as she died from cancer and never left. Of course, Tulane was only in New Orleans, so he didn't go far.

Now he's the mayor of Blue Bayou - it's a volunteer position, so he supports himself with his contracting business. He's a natural politician and diplomat - always had a way with the ladies, as long as they don't start thinking about flatware patterns and picket fences. No, marriage might have tripped up brothers Jack and Finn, but not Nate. That is, not until he met Regan.

Regan's a hard case - she's a homicide cop in L.A. That's Los Angeles, not Louisiana. She's all business, no nonsense and no play, just like his big brother Finn. When Nate shows up in the L.A. homicide office, she's also all suspicion. She worked with Finn a few years back, so she tries to remain open minded about Nate's visit - but she doesn't buy his story: he ran across some cold case evidence of a possible murder in Blue Bayou some 30 years ago. The victim had a 2 year old child named Regan, and it's no coincidence when the pieces of the puzzle come together: he thinks she's the daughter of the victim. But that doesn't fit her life because she had a mother, who died 2 years ago, who raised her in California as a single mother after her father died in Vietnam. However, there is mention of a toy elephant that is suspiciously similar to the one she still has...

It takes a while for Regan to get curious enough to follow the evidence to Blue Bayou and check it out for herself. Being a small town, there are still a folks around who remember Linda Dale, the nightclub singer who died from carbon monoxide poisoning, a probable suicide. But Linda's diary indicates there was more to the story - no depression, no suicidal thoughts, so what really happened, both to Linda and to little Regan?

On Regan's first day in town, however, Nate deputizes her to help out with a train/truck wreck where they pull out a runaway teen with an attitude, Josh. After that, rumor has it Regan is there for the sheriff's position, vacated in book 1 when the sheriff got put away for conspiracies and other criminal activities.

The story lets Regan take her time getting to know the Blue Bayou inhabitants and learn some of the mystique and appeal of small town living. I personally can vouch for the mystique and cannot say for sure whether or not it's different in south Louisiana, but I think it is. She also gets introduced to Mardi Gras Blue Bayou style - Mardi Gras is an institution down there, for sure. (For the uninitiated, Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, which is what it's called in the book, and it's the day before Lent.)

Meanwhile she takes her time getting acclimated to Nate as well. She finds him interesting, but she doesn't see any future there, what with her having this career in L.A. and all. There's an attraction on his part too - hell, he's a true ladies' man and he's not dead - but Nate makes it clear he's not looking for any commitment, especially one involving flatware. Ha.

I do love stories where the man caves first, and hard.

Once again, I was left with that grin on my face and the afterglow of a good story at the end. OK, the whole Josh-the-runaway-teen thing wrapped up a little too easily and left me scratching my head on the details, almost as if the author thought, oh wait we have to let the readers know how Josh's background played out.

There's a bit of suspense in solving the mystery of Linda's death, too, although it's clear Regan is definitely the little girl, but the main focus of this book is the developing romance. I found it credible and romantic, and the end is truly sigh-worthy - 5 stars.

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