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Sweet Mystery

A Time to Love by Lynn Emery
(Arabesque/BET, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 1-58314-008-5
A Time to Love is set in Lynn Emery's beloved Louisiana landscape. No one captures the rich African-American heritage and the language, locale and culture of the region better than Emery.

A Time to Love is the story of Neva Sterling Ross. Neva has returned from New Orleans to the small, Black southern Louisiana town of Solitude to care for her ailing grandmother, "Mama Jo." For several generations, the Sterling family has carved out a niche for themselves. The Sterlings live simply. Mama Jo and her late husband, "Papa Dub" educated their children, provided jobs for extended family members and gave others a start with profits from real estate which had been in the family "since antebellum times," timber and from The Fish Shack.

The Fish Shack was established more than fifty years ago by brothers Dub and Luther Sterling. Initially, it sold fresh fish from the local lakes and streams. The business expanded with tourism in the area to include sales of fishing supplies for visiting fishermen. Neva is Mama Jo's heir apparent.

While most are not envious of Neva, not all family members are pleased. Neva's first cousin, Desiree Sterling Darensbourg, and Desiree's mother, Shirley are greedy and ambitious. Desiree has been jealous of Neva since childhood. Although her mismanagement of the Fish Shack led Mama Jo to summon Neva from New Orleans, Desiree feels slighted and wants revenge, power and a hefty share of the profits. She is in cahoots with the wealthy white Bellows family who want the Sterling land for their own purposes.

Chandler Macklin provides Neva with a break from her family feud with Desiree and problems that threaten the Fish Shack. He is the divorced father of a preteen son, Tariq, who lives in Detroit. The father and son are close and communicate via phone and e-mail between visits.

After a lenghty custody battle, Chandler recently moved from Detroit to take a job with the local industry and to research an ancestor who may have lived in the region during the Civil War.

Neva and Chandler are immediately attracted to each other probably because he is one of the few men in town who is not related by blood or marriage to the Sterlings! They spend time fishing and researching. It is Chandler's quest for information about Joshua Macklin that inspires Neva to search her own family tree. One cousin quips: "Careful you don't shake out some nuts." What Neva does discover has a greater impact.

Neva and Chandler's growing relationship is threatened by Cousin Desiree's plots, the Barrows family, his ex-wife and son and old family secrets. Neva is also dogged by gossip and old rumors that she is "a witch." Three men including her late husband had "bad luck" after falling in love with her. Although Chandler acknowledges that he has fallen in love with the bewitching Neva Ross, he puts no stock in the rumors. He jokingly asks about one of the three unfortunate men: "Did she sacrifice him at midnight under a full moon?"

Lynn Emery fans will be pleased to find all the classic elements of her work intact: mystery, greed, family secrets, betrayal. A Time to Love also is a story with strong family loyalty, respect, love and enduring relationships. The relationship between Neva and Chandler is honest. Their responsibilities and insecurities are explored candidly so the characters never appear wishy-washy.

There are certain aspects of the story that could have been strengthened more. For example, the question of Neva's psychic gifts was never fully explored to my satisfaction given the rich Louisiana folklore steeped in voodoo and psychic phenomenon. Also, Chandler's genealogical search was an intriguing element that could have been enhanced, particularly during Tariq's visits to the area.

That said, A Time to Love is worth a look.

--Gwendolyn Osborne

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