Dreaming of You by Dixie Kane
(Zebra, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-921-77245-7
***
Nicholas Gerard, business tycoon, inherited a New Orleans French Quarter residence from his maternal grandfather. In spite of its prime location, attempts to sell the building have been in vain. His grasping relatives have soured him on the idea of marriage and family so he is deaf to the pleas of the four tenants who appeal to him not to sell the building. He’s been forced to make repeated repairs to the building when prospective buyers were turned off by various mechanical problems. The real estate agent informs him that the most recent problem is that the building seems to be haunted. Nick decides he needs to intervene personally and flies to New Orleans. He will move into his grandfather’s empty flat and block any further attempts by the tenants to impede his efforts to sell.

Magnolia Mayfair rents a small flat and store-front in the Beaulieu Building. Like the other three tenants - Ed, a retired professor, Shirley,a psychic reader, and Jaye, a female impersonator - she knows she will not be able to rent space for such a reasonable amount elsewhere in the French Quarter. Moreover, the four are like family and will be forced to split up if they move. Learning that the empty flat has been rented, they clear out the equipment which created the haunted house effects that discouraged interested buyers.

Nick arrives in New Orleans obviously ill with pneumonia. The tenants, having been told he’s an aspiring author rather than the residence’s owner, immediately begin taking care of him. Shirley had seen a description of Maggie’s next lover in the tarot cards, and Nick seems to fit. Maggie is undeniably drawn to him even ill as he is. Her former fiancé had cheated on her with six other women, and Maggie believes that she has lost her only Mr. Right and will never marry, but she’s started wondering if she ought to have a casual love affair.

Nick is uncertain how he feels the care he’s receiving from strangers. He’s uncomfortable being cared for by people he doesn’t know even as he appreciates their efforts. He’s still suspicious of the tricks they’ve used to discourage buyers. He especially wants to know how they’ve managed to achieve the blurred image of a man in the corner of his room.

As he recuperates, Nick is attracted to Maggie even as he insists she’s off-limits because she is obviously wu-wu-wu-wife material. Maggie insists she has no interest in marriage and just wants a casual affair. But things will take an unexpected turn when supernatural phenomena start happening around the Beaulieu Building.

Dreaming of You is a light story with some amusing characters and a predictable plot. Although the various characters are straight from central casting - even the quirky ones fit a stereotype - they’re portrayed as distinct individuals. In addition, the author handles dialogue with multiple characters well.

The plot, however, does not rise above its formulaic origins. I hadn’t read many pages before I knew exactly where the story was going. In many respects it’s a very traditional romance: wealthy, powerful, emotionally withdrawn hero meets sweet, hard-working girl with supportive circle of friends and - voila! - he connects with his underdeveloped emotional side and love triumphs. Making the heroine’s friends psychic or transgendered doesn’t disguise the traditional roots of this plot.

Moreover, the screwball comedy side of Dreaming of You plugs into an old convention. A major factor in the plot is that old favorite: the Big Misunderstanding. For a good part of the book, Maggie and company are unaware that Nick owns their residence. In fact, they jump to the conclusion that he’s a wealthy author and try to persuade him to buy the building so it’s a double misunderstanding.

There’s a strong emphasis on the New Orleans setting. Readers familiar with the French Quarter and nearby locales will feel right at home.

For readers who are stressed out over the holidays, this is a light, entertaining tale to wile away a few hours. It’s not going to make anyone’s best-book-of-the-year list, but it’s not going to add to the stress.

--Lesley Dunlap


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