Moon Over Water
by Debbie Macomber
(Mira, $6.99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-533-6
**
Debbie Macomber's Moon Over Water is part romance and part adventure story. While the romance aspect fails on almost every level, the adventure story is entertaining enough to offset some of the book's many problems. Consider your priorities before spending money on this book – if a great love story is high on your list (and it probably is), read further and be warned.

Just when Lorraine Dancy has it all together – a satisfying career, a pleasant engagement to a good man – it all falls apart. Her mother, who has been her best friend all of her life, is killed in a car accident. Upon receiving some personal items from her mother's safe deposit box, the traumatized Lorraine receives another shock – her father is alive.

Lorraine's mother had told her that her father died twenty-five years ago. Learning that he is alive and living in a small town in Mexico fills Lorraine with pain, confusion, and questions. Why did her mother lie? Why hasn't her father ever contacted her? What happened to destroy the deep and loving marriage her mother had always spoken of?

Against her fiancé's objections, Lorraine heads to Mexico for answers and to meet her long-lost father. Unfortunately, after only hours in his company, she finds herself implicated in the theft of a valuable Mexican artifact and wanted by the authorities. (The details of how this happens are too lengthy to go into here, but suffice it to say that Macomber crafts a plausible setup for this seemingly outlandish development).

Fearing her fate at the hands of the Mexican police, Lorraine's father leads her to relative safety and a means of escape. This protection and opportunity come in the form of Jack Keller, a friend of her father's and an ex-mercenary who possesses both a boat and the cunning to slip Lorraine across the border and back into the U.S. Ah, if only everything could go as planned.

Instead, the impromptu pairing is a disaster. Jack and Lorraine basically hate each other on sight and lack the maturity to maintain even basic civility. Even though he's coming to her rescue, Lorraine thinks Jack is a scruffy, vulgar good-for-nothing and proceeds to be prissy and rude to him. Even though she's his good friend's daughter, Jack finds Lorraine conceited, irritating, and generally useless, and he proceeds to be cruel and offensive to her.

Sound like fun to you? Macomber references the movie Romancing the Stone several times, and it is clear that film's pair of mismatched lovers served as a template for this one. If you liked the movie, you might enjoy this section of the book, which consists mainly of a drawn-out, insult-spitting battle of wills. Personally, I found myself hating both characters by regular turns, and this is not something I consider a boon in a novel where I'm supposed to care about the hero and heroine. In point of fact, Lorraine is a naive, spoiled little ninny, and Jack is a childish, offensive jerk, but the fact that they were right about each other didn't make them any dearer to my heart. But Macomber knows how to keep things moving along, so at least I didn't get bored.

In fact, Macomber has a talent for sustaining a fast, page-turning pace, and this is part of what makes the adventure story so entertaining. Pursued by both the authorities and the real artifact thief, Lorraine and Jack stumble into further trouble (due to more too-stupid-to-live behavior on Lorraine's part) when they get on the bad side of a local drug lord. Their race for safety and survival makes for fairly engaging reading.

Unfortunately, their romantic relationship is dead in the water. Although the author assures the reader that they do, eventually, have some deep and personal conversations, it's one of those unsatisfying told-but-not-shown situations. I didn't get to be in on those conversations, so I didn't get to see these two getting to know each other. And since the Big, Big, BIG Misunderstanding between them (which serves as the only real obstacle to their relationship) is never cleared up during these heart-to-hearts, it was hard for me to believe that they ever talked at all.

You see, after her mother's death, Lorraine put her mother's wedding ring on her own left hand for vague, sentimental reasons. Thus, Jack reasonably assumes she's married instead of merely engaged (another contrived point – she inexplicably wears an "engagement necklace" instead of a ring), and Lorraine, for many implausible reasons, doesn't bother to correct him. It takes a long, long time for this lie to be resolved, and by the time it was, I was too aggravated to care if they ever got together.

So as I said, consider your priorities. If a fast-paced, entertaining adventure story with a superficial romance thrown in sounds like a good read to you, have at it. If you're looking for a book that includes a well-developed, believable romantic relationship between two likeable characters, think twice.

-- Ellen Hestand


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