Touched by Fire

Night Winds by Gwyneth Atlee
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6642-2
Gwyneth Atlee's newest book, Night Winds, tries to do too much. It tries to show the points of view of too many people which causes the story to seem jumpy. The action and the horrific situations caused by a Texas gulf hurricane and its effects on a coastal town in the 1875's do make the story worth reading.

Shae Rowan is in trouble with everyone. Instead of showing up at her engagement party to Ethan Lowell, the son of one of the wealthiest men in town, she drives to the beach. Her social climbing father is furious because her actions could cost him sales at his jewelry store. She had only agreed to the engagement because of pressure from him even though she doesn't fit in with the rich crowd and she likes Ethan but doesn't love him. She has always felt like an outcast because of her mother's reputation as a loose woman. When her mother ran off with another man, Shae knew everyone was whispering about her family.

Phillip Payton, a friend of Ethan's, finds her on the beach and roundly criticizes her for her actions. When she runs away from him, falling and injuring her ankle, he leaves her on the beach. For Phillip, this is an unusual reaction. He is a gentleman and usually tries to take care of everyone. He abandoned his plans to be a doctor when his father's deathbed wish was for Phillip to head the family shipping business and take care of his two sisters and mother. He is also a man of conscience. He has angered the white dock workers because he has hired a number of black dock workers and given them a fair shake. He goes to Shae's house to see if she is all right and finds her in despair, the result of her father's anger about the broken engagement.

A series of events push Phillip and Shae together where each can see the good points of the other. There are too many events to mention, but they include Shae's discovery that her Mother may not have left but may have been murdered, Phillip's discovery that his fiancée is not as devoted as he thought, Ethan's less that noble actions, and death threats to Phillip because he has hired black workers. The buildup to the hurricane, its strike, and its aftermath are part of most scenes; sometimes in the backdrop, but often the main part of the action.

Phillip is a good man, but has spent is too much of his life following others’wishes. He is also too trusting and gets burned by both Ethan and his fiancée. Shae is a likable character, but she tends to do some stupid things. For example, after one encounter with her father turns violent, she later sets out to confront him again without telling Phillip and letting him accompany her. She also turns to Ethan for help a couple of times even though she knows his slimy motivation for helping. Despite her actions, the love story between Phillip and Shae is sweet.

There are a number of secondary characters including Shae's father and aunt, Phillip's sisters and fiancée and Ethan and many points of view, but the flow of the story is disrupted by so many voices.

The description of how a town in 1875 handles a hurricane is intriguing. No advanced storm warnings were available back then, so people didn't evacuate until the water was very near. The descriptions of the devastation are vivid and the pain of the survivors looking for lost family is heart wrenching.

Night Winds is worth reading, but be prepared to jump around quite a bit. It is not a book to put down for any length of time because you will end up going back to reread to figure it out.

--B. Kathy Leitle

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