When Candice Proctor's first novel, Night in Eden, was published last year, romance readers were excited to discover a talented new author. We could hardly wait for her second novel to be published. Unfortunately, I have to report that the romance reading public would have been happier with a longer wait. The Bequest is a long way from the book its predecessor was – half a world away to be exact: Proctor has abandoned her unusual Australian setting for the more familiar post – Civil War American West.
What made Night in Eden so successful was that it had everything: a dynamic plot, solid character development, a strong sense of setting, and excellent writing. The Bequest has the characterization, the setting, the writing, but the plot is uninspired to say the least. What happened to the originality that so distinguished Night?
Gabrielle Antoine has been raised in a convent in New Orleans (it's always a New Orleans convent). She is suddenly left without any financial support when a crooked lawyer (It's always a crooked lawyer) cleans out her trust fund, but she receives a letter informing her that one Celeste DuBois (oops! almost wrote Blanche DuBois) has left her a house in Central City, Colorado. So, of course, Gabrielle leaves New Orleans to the carpetbaggers and heads to Colorado in search of the home she's never had (heroines are always intrepid travelers).
When she arrives in Colorado, she learns the house is not a home. It's (gasp!) a whorehouse, and Celeste, the madam, was the mother she had been led to believe was dead (embarrassing relatives are frequently reported dead). Celeste owned the house together with Jordan Hays, a gorgeous hunk (it's always a gorgeous hunk), who manages the gambling side of the business. A local businessman, Doug Slaughter, who's slimy, immoral, and deceitful (absolutely essential qualities for a villain) is trying to buy the house. Gabrielle decides not to sell because she wants to turn the house into a school and encourage the chippies to learn an honest trade (heroines always have virtuous goals.)
In order to buy out Jordan's share, Gabrielle moves into the house and becomes the establishment's piano player which brings a whole new dimension to her education. Gabrielle now begins to understand these unfamiliar feelings she has whenever she's near Jordan etc. etc.
Right about now you're thinking: "I've read that before." You certainly have. Yes, it's a retread of the tired virgin-in-the-whorehouse plot and a very formulaic retread at that. All the familiar stereotypes are here: the hooker with the heart of gold, the hooker with the abusive childhood, the Civil War soldier who's lost his entire family, the lover who died in a duel leaving his pregnant sweetheart behind, the hypocritical sinning preacher, the big-hearted bouncer with an unrequited love, the convenient letter that reveals all the hidden secrets, and more.
As I read The Bequest, I kept expecting Proctor to put a new spin on this hackneyed plot. It never happened. None of the originality that made Night in Eden so memorable is evident in this story. Believe me, you won't want to read The Bequest for the plot.
Why might you want to read it at all? Because Proctor is an author who can write well, very well. Her character development is deeper and more convincing than that in most romances, and the use of setting is unusually effective. We see, hear, smell, even feel the Colorado countryside. Other authors place their stories in a particular locale; Proctor places the reader in a locale. There are well-drawn characters and a vivid impression of Colorado hiding behind the insipid plot. While that doesn't redeem the book completely, it saves it from being a total loss.
Yes, I'm still looking forward to Proctor's next book because her kind of talent is rare, but I don't mind waiting longer for the next one.
In the meantime, Candice, hie thee back to Australia and write us another like your first.