Cypress Nights

Stella Cameron
2008, Romantic Suspense
MIRA, $24.95, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0778325407
Part of a series

Grade: D+
Sensuality: Hot

The blurb for Stella Cameron's Cypress Nights didn't do much for me, but I make it a habit never to judge a book by its cover...or blurb. As it turns out, the set up between the hero and heroine seemed ridiculous, and when I finished reading, I realized I hadn't liked the book at all, but for reasons other than those mentioned in the blurb.

Bleu Laveau is a few years out of an abusive marriage, and still hasn’t shed her fear of intimacy. So when Roche Savage, a local psychiatrist and known ladies’ man, begins pursuing her, she gets nervous. She’s new in town, hired by the parish her cousin works for to raise money to build a new school. She’s passionate about the project, and others seem to be, too – until one of its biggest supporters is found dead in the church, throat slashed savagely, with a pamphlet about the school stuffed in his mouth.

Roche finds himself compelled to protect Bleu, fearing she’s a future victim. He knows that she has some issues but is very attracted to her anyway, though he fears his own sexual addiction and wild history will scare her off.

In the meantime, Bleu’s cousin Madge is in love with the parish priest, Father Cyrus. He loves her back, but knows there is no possible future for them.

First of all, the names. Of course this book takes place in a Louisiana bayou town. Where else in America will you find names like Bleu and Roche? Roche has a bit of an excuse because he's a local, but how on earth did a high school football coach’s daughter from Wyoming get a name like Bleu Laveau? It seems to me that Cameron got caught up in the Cajun stereotypes that abound romances, and forgot that her heroine wasn’t actually from Louisiana.

I also had a hard time finding the characters believable. Father Cyrus did not act like a priest. And I don’t just mean his feelings for Madge. Though I was a bit uncomfortable with that storyline, I thought, in the end, it turned out for the best, even if it was bittersweet. No, I mean in the way he acts, what he says, and how he thinks. Nothing matched my own experience with the priests I've known, and if I had to put my finger on it, I'd say the element of spirituality I've noticed in other men of the cloth was absent in Father Cyrus. In addition, Roche didn’t act or think like a psychiatrist, until the end. Both of these professions are ones that influence, and are influenced, by the type of person you are outside the office (or church), and that was missing in both of them.

Another glaring problem was the characters' incredibly awkward and often abrupt dialogue. Not only did it fail to follow a natural progression, but when people spoke during the course of the story, they said things I would never dream of saying...or hearing from another person. All these strange, ill-fitting statements seem to be an attempt to induce psychoanalysis or characterization, but instead it just grated on my nerves and made me shake my head at the characters.

And speaking of psychoanalysis: Between the head-jumping and assumptive statements made by Roche and Bleu about themselves and each other, and what the other person was thinking about themselves, I had no idea who was who, who thought what, and basically, what was going on. Bleu constantly analyzed herself and Roche, who in return analyzed her and her assessment of him. If that weren't enough, Bleu constantly assumes she knows what Roche thinks about her. All of this is stated as fact, and with point of view shifting back and forth between them, it was confusing as hell and misleading.

The plot was weak as well, built upon nonsensical leaps of logic and baseless assumptions. And, while there is an overabundance of law enforcement heroes (and heroines), it’s hard to do a romantic suspense novel without an intimate connection with the case. Bleu’s and Roche’s connection was tenuous; in order to make them a larger part of the suspense plot, they had to force themselves into places they didn’t belong. My inner CSI fan cringed at the evidence contaminated by these two, and I tried to figure out how Roche had the authority or expertise to swear to find the murderer himself. As to the denouement, that too made little sense, what with all the confusing inconsistencies.

Did I mention that Roche’s sex addiction subplot fizzled out? As it was the first thing mentioned in the book’s summary, I thought it would be a bigger deal, but in actuality he was no different than any other hero. Then too, I don't understand why Bleu never told Roche about the nature of her relationship with her ex-husband, even as he tried to fix her. It needed to be discussed, but that conversation never took place.

Cameron's latest read like an early draft and would have been well served by additional work on plotting, characterization, and dialogue. Cypress Nights is like a mix of puzzle pieces that fail to fit properly; instead they're just jammed into place.

-- Jane Granville

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