Desert Isle Keeper Review

In the Midnight Rain

Ruth Wind
2000, Women's Fiction
Harper, $6.99, 406 pages, Amazon ASIN 0061030120

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Subtle

Don't let the "Contemporary Women's Fiction" label fool you; In the Midnight Rain is about as romantic as it gets. This is my first Ruth Wind, and oh my, how this lady can tell a tale. For those of you, like myself, who have memories of what it was like to send boys we cared about off to fight in Vietnam, perhaps never to return, In The Midnight Rain holds a significant emotional substance to it that makes the story even more poignant.

Ellie Connor is a biographer who specializes in famous musicians. As Ellie tells it, she's void of talent herself when it comes to music, so she has made a career of writing about singers and songwriters. The blues are her favorite and strike such a mellow chord in her that she loses herself completely in the notes, almost as though they were part of her very soul.

Ellie's current project has brought her to the small town of Pine Bend in East Texas, where a celebrated blues singer/songwriter lived (and perhaps died) some fifty years earlier. Beautiful black singer Mabel Beauvais was on the verge of legend when she virtually vanished from the face of the earth. Mabel's life, and the truth behind her disappearance, are the driving forces behind Ellie's visit to Pine Bend and the biography she's determined to write.

But Mabel Beauvais isn't the only reason for Ellie's arrival in Pine Bend. It seems that her mother had passed through the small community some thirty years earlier when the bus of hippies she was in broke down. Ellie's mom stayed the summer, and fell in love. When she returned home, it was to deliver Ellie, then disappear again, only to die shortly thereafter without revealing who Ellie's father was. He was a boy who was sent to Vietnam at the end of that long-ago summer, but was he one of the ones who came back to Pine Bend, or was he one whose name is carved on the town's war memorial?

Enter Blue Reynard, a man with whom Ellie has been corresponding for the last year via e-mail, and who may be able to help her. Drop dead gorgeous, Blue is a man Ellie knows she's going to fall in love with. He's a rich, handsome widower, and he's simply too emotionally needy for her to pass up. Ellie always falls for the needy ones; she can't help it. When Blue starts to fall, too, sultry and seductive Southern nights are sure to follow. But Blue has baggage of his own, and the closer Ellie gets, the more terrified Blue becomes. Loss and pain are his constant companions, and he knows letting Ellie into his life will only cause him more grief down the line.

There's much more the to the story and every bit of it is rich with emotion and truth. There are no false notes, no contrivances. The people Ellie encounters are real and complex, fair and flawed. The author easily blends the white and black communities in Pine Bend, blurring racial lines into nothingness, which is exactly how it should be. While race does play a factor in the story, it is dealt with realistically; character actions and reactions are true to each individual, not to any stereotypes. Nicely done, Ms. Wind.

The characterizations are vivid, the conflicts very real. When Ellie finally gets to the bottom of everything, a succession of revelations brings it all together, in ways Ellie had not anticipated.

I gave this book an A- due to a few eensy inconsistencies, and the overuse of a couple of phrases that pulled me a bit out of the story. Nit-picky, I know, but there you have it. No book is perfect, but this one does come close, sugar.

In the Midnight Rain pleased me. It made me cry, and I laughed at the bits of humor. I loved the hero (did I mention he's not only rich and handsome, but he's very smart, and he raises orchids?). The heroine was a woman I could probably know in real life, and whose company I would enjoy. Actually, I think I would enjoy all the lovely people in Pine Bend, and I think you would, too.

-- Marianne Stillings

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