The Alibi




Smoke Screen

The Switch

White Hot

by Sandra Brown
(Simon & Schuster, $23.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-1-4391-7277-3
For years the romance genre has worked for respect in the publishing industry so this new trend comes as a surprise.†Whoever thought having A-list authors produce abbreviated works and selling them at full hardback prices was a good idea?† †

Ice by Linda Howard is so light-weight and shallow it barely qualifies for all three letters in its title.†A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh is a pleasant enough tale with a neat twist at the end, but it doesnít have the depth of many of the authorís early Signet regency romances.† Sizewise, Rainwater by Sandra Brown harks back more than two decades ago to her old category romances.†(In a note before the story the author claims she wasnít sure this departure from her recent works would be well received by the publishing world. Yeah, right, like a Sandra Brown novel would ever be rejected. In fact, some of those old categories are currently being reprinted in hardback.)† †

What distinguishes Rainwater is its solid plotting and depth of character development.† And thatís what so disappointing about it.†Couldnít someone have encouraged the author to expand it to a full-length book?†

The book begins with a brief scene in present day.†In response to questions about his pocket watch inscribed with the date August 11, 1934, the owner of an antiques store tells his customers a story. †

Itís a time of drought and the Great Depression.†Unemployment and homelessness are widespread.† Racial inequality and oppression are rarely questioned.†In rural areas, the government is paying farmers and slaughtering their herds.†Sad but true: those older and simpler times were not always better.†

Single mother Ella Barron owns and operates a boarding house in Gilead, Texas.†Dr. Kincaid, one of those old-fashioned doctors who knows his patients and makes housecalls, introduces his cousin David Rainwater in hopes that Ella has not yet had time to rent her recently available room.†Thin and well-dressed, Mr. Rainwater wants to move in immediately even though Ella hasnít had time to clean the room since the previous boarder left.†Ella has high standards.† Dr. Kincaid has recommended her house because itís clean and well run.†Mr. Rainwater desires a well-maintained place, one thatís peaceful and quiet.†

They are interrupted by a blood-curdling scream from the kitchen. Itís laundry day, and her nine-year-old son Solly has pulled the pan of cooling starch off the stove.†Fortunately, the liquid has had time to cool somewhat, and Sollyís injuries arenít serious. Solly, however, is obviously unable to handle the accident; his reaction is extreme.† (Solly displays the classic signs of a severely autistic child.† As is mentioned at the end of the book, the term was first used in the mid-nineteen forties so itís never used in the 1934 story.)†Mr. Rainwater helps to calm Solly.† †

Afterwards Dr. Kincaid tells Ella why itís important that Mr. Rainwater needs a quiet place.† Heís dying.†(And this isnít the same kind of dying as the hero in Ms. Brownís Send No Flowers who gets a reprieve in the end.†Mr. Rainwater is terminal.)†

Ella is still reluctant to rent the room before itís thoroughly ready.†Margaret, Ellaís maid, tells her that Brother Calvin, the new preacher at her church, is looking for work and may help to ready the room.†Mr. Rainwater says heíll cover the cost of the extra help so itís arranged, and Mr. Rainwater moves into the boarding house soon afterwards.†

Mr. Rainwater settles in. Not only is he a good tenant, kind to Ella and popular with his fellow boarders, heís unexpectedly helpful and encouraging with Solly.†His discovers abilities Sollyís own mother hadnít noticed.†But Mr. Rainwaterís time is limited, and Ella cannot help noticing his deteriorating health.†

Meanwhile, Gilead is suffering from the pressures of the times.†Many forces are threatening the domestic tranquility, and soon the town will be torn apart by strife.† >[? While Rainwater has a bittersweet romance, its strength is its portrait of a woman tested by circumstances. Ella Barron is a more developedóand more likeable--character than many of the heroines in the authorís recent full-length contemporary romances. Sheís the stereotypical Southern womanósoft on the outside, tough at the core.†Readers will strongly sympathize with Ellaís struggles to deal with her sonís daunting challenges and to meet her many responsibilities.† Furthermore, the burdens of dealing day-to-day with a severely handicapped child are treated candidly.†

David Rainwater is nearly as fully developed.† Heís a man of strong principles and compassion.† His desire to make his final days meaningful adds dimension to his actions.†On the other hand, Conrad Ellis, the villain of the piece, is more one-dimensional.†As presented, he lacks even a single redeeming virtue.†

The hard-scrabble setting is another strength; it turns a decent story of decent people into a heart-wrenching narrative. The vivid scenes of the cattle kill wonít be easily forgotten.† †

Assigning a rating to Rainwater is not easy.†The original story line and the sound character development warrant a strong recommendation.†The short length and hefty price tag prompt reservations.†Itís hard not to wish that Rainwater had been given the longer treatment it deserves.†The best advice is to read Rainwater knowing that itís pretty good but not as good as it could be.†Sadly, itís only a hundred pages or so from being one of this accomplished authorís best.† †

--Lesley Dunlap†

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