Amber Beach

Autumn Lover

Desert Rain

Forget Me Not

Jade Island

Pearl Cove

To the Ends of the Earth

Where The Heart Is

Winter Fire

Midnight at Ruby Bayou
by Elizabeth Lowell
(Morrow, $24.00, R) ISBN 0-380-97405-3
Having not read the first three books in Elizabeth Lowell’s series about the Donovan family and their dealings in the cut throat and dangerous world of precious gems, I was not quite sure what to expect when I opened this final installment. What I found was a page turner, filled with suspense and romance as well as fascinating information about that most elusive of gems, the ruby.

The tale begins in the basement of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. There, thieves are rifling through the drawers, choosing valuable but obscure jewelry to sell. But one thief cannot resist the lure of a beautiful ruby necklace, the famous Heart of Midnight, consisting of one huge ruby surrounded by fourteen smaller but perfect gems. Unlike the other loot stolen by these robbers, the Heart of Midnight is easily identifiable. Moreover, it is scheduled to be exhibited at the museum in a few months. If it is not returned, Marat Tarasov, the government official in charge of “deaquisitioning” the holdings of the museum, will be in big trouble. Since Tarasov is also the head of one of the criminal gangs that is currently looting and pillaging Russia, he is not fussy about the methods used to recover the gem. And his information suggests that the Heart of Midnight is in the possession of one Faith Donovan, of Seattle, Washington, USA.

Like all of her family, Faith is involved in the jewelry business, but with a difference. While her brothers buy and sell gems, Faith designs unique jewelry. She has just received a most intriguing commission. Davis Montegeau, a wealthy and well-known jeweler from South Carolina, has sent her fourteen lovely rubies to craft into a necklace for his prospective daughter-in-law. Since Mel was her college roommate and is her good friend, Faith is delighted to undertake the task, despite the short deadline.

The ever protective Archer Donovan, Faith’s older brother, asks his trusted employee and ruby expert, Owen Walker, to check out the rubies. He also asks Owen to protect Faith and the valuable gems. When Faith’s shop is ransacked, it becomes clear that this protection is very necessary. So Owen becomes Faith’s shadow as she heads off to a jewelry show in Savannah and then to the Montegeau family home, Ruby Bayou. Since murder and mayhem follow Faith and the rubies wherever they go, Owen is kept busy. But not too busy to begin to fall in love with his boss’s sister.

The first key to writing good romantic suspense is to create an aura of deadly menace. This Lowell does in spades. Faith is in danger, not only from the ruthless Russian who is determined to recover the ruby, but also because of the machinations of her host at Ruby Bayou. There is a real gothic feel to Lowell’s descriptions of the decrepit mansion by the sea and the secrets it hides.

The second key is to provide a good, hot romance. This Lowell does as well. Faith has just recently broken off with her domineering fiancé and is convinced that she is cold and unattractive. Owen, because of events in his past, is fearful of that he will fail to protect someone he loves and thus has avoided committed relationships. Shared danger leads to shared passion. But will it lead to shared lives?

My personal test of good romantic suspense centers on its ability to keep me on edge, even though I know that the story must end happily. I have to say that Midnight at Ruby Bayou did just that. The danger to Faith and Owen seems absolutely palpable. Moreover, the nasty secrets from the Montegeau family’s past add an additional layer of mystery and menace.

Elizabeth Lowell has crafted another fine tale of romance and suspense. She is clearly one of the best in the business. When she is good, she is very, very good.

--Jean Mason

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