Midnight Bayou, by Nora Roberts

>> Thursday, September 25, 2003

Yesterday I finished Midnight Bayou, by Nora Roberts. I don't rush to buy Roberts' hardcovers any more, not even when they come out as paperbacks, because I'm a bit tired of her romantic suspense. I do trade for them, if I have the chance, though, and that's the way I acquired this book.

Declan Fitzgerald had always been the family maverick, but even he couldn't understand his impulse to buy a dilapidated mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans. All he knew was that ever since he first saw Manet Hall, he'd been enchanted-and obsessed-with it. So when the opportunity to buy the house comes up, Declan jumps at the chance to live out a dream.

Determined to restore Manet Hall to its former splendor, Declan begins the daunting renovation room by room, relying on his own labor and skills. But the days spent in total isolation in the empty house take a toll. He is seeing visions of days from a century past, and experiencing sensations of terror and nearly unbearable grief-sensations not his own, but those of a stranger. Local legend has it that the house is haunted, and with every passing day Declan's belief in the ghostly presence grows.

Only the companionship of alluring Angelina Simone can distract him from the mysterious happenings in the house, but Angelina too has her own surprising connection to Manet Hall-a connection that will help Declan uncover a secret that's been buried for a hundred years.
It was a wonderful surprise to realize that this wasn't romantic suspense, but a nice, creepy ghost story. No crazed murderer stalking our heroine, no little snippets of his mental processes, no graphic descriptions of him killing his victims... it was such a relief! There is some violence in the part of the story set 100 years before; what would be the story about the "ghosts", but it doesn't take over the present-day part and is over quite quickly.

As soon as I realized what I was reading, I settled down to read and enjoy. And enjoy I did. This is Nora Roberts at the top of her form: an A+.

The story was fascinating, but what made the book were the characters. I'll come clean and confess I'm in love with Declan. This is very much his story. Lena was a great character, too (more later), but it's Declan who shines here. I'm sure many readers will find him too perfect for them to like, but for me... well, let's just say Roberts hit right on all my fantasies with him. He's sexy, kind, considerate, sweet, a great friend, has great manners, is loaded and falls like a ton of bricks when he meets his woman. He's also stubborn, nobody's fool and won't let himself be pushed around by anyone or any ghost. He has enough of an edge to make this paragon more interesting.

And BTW, I just ove the name Declan. It's probably because it makes me think of the guy from Mysterious Ways, who I love (I really like the show, too).

As I said, Lena was great. At last, after all those heroines who are nothing more than a bunch of sexual neurosis, here's a woman who's perfectly comfortable with her own sexuality. No "Oh, no! My tits are too big, men will find me disgusting!" nonsense here: Lena knows she's beautiful and sexy and she has no problem using this.

I really enjoyed seeing how Declan was completely overwhelmed by her. It wasn't quite love at first sight, but he had zero problem admitting his feelings and wanting to make a commitment, which is one of my favourite things in romance novels. I'm usually pretty impatient with heroes with commitment issues (not with heroines, though, which is yet another of my double standards).

Actually, there is a kind of role reversal here. I'm used to reading romance novels where the heroine feels dissatisfied with her life and decides to leave it all behind (high powered career in the big city, rich family, etc) for a more rural atmosphere, where she finds her place. There she usually meets a guy who's comfortable in his own skin, doing what he likes to do, and falls in love. That's a good description of Midnight Bayou, only with the heroine starting in the steady place and the hero looking for his place in the world. Simple, but very effective.

Apart from the love story itself, this book was lots of fun. A good ghost story with a twist in the end. The restoration of Manet Hall (cleaning, restoring, redecorating... for some reason I love reading about the process, even if I'd probably detest doing it). A setting that really comes to life... New Orleans and the bayou (and the house itself is almost like another character in the book. I could see it very clearly!). Nicely drawn secondary characters. There wasn't a false not in the lot.

And a last note: when Lena's evil slut junkie mother appeared, I thought "Oh no. Cliché coming up." I can't stand characters who are pushovers and allow themselves to be taken advantage of by their evil families. But the way they handled her was definitely not a cliché. Declan and Lena simply refused to be manipulated into giving her money. That scene with Declan, the way he simply flattened her, I loved it! And then he went and told Lena, didn't try to shield her. I love these people!

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