The Long Hot Summer
by Wendy Rosnau
(Silh. Int. Mom. # 996 $4.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-07996-6
****
The title suggests the indolent pace of Wendy Rosnau's first novel, but she effectively uses this speed to create the characters, the conflicts, and the atmosphere that so enrich her story. Silhouette Intimate Moments has found a keeper in this new author.

Johnny Bernard grew up in a small town nestled in the Louisiana bayou. His parents were arguably the poorest people in town that owned any real estate. He was taunted and beaten daily by the town bully Farrell Craig and his cohorts. Johnny’s father was killed by a hit and run driver, then his mother died soon thereafter. He left town as quickly as possible and spent years in the military.

Intending never to return, Johnny was surprised by an offer to purchase the farm. Having thought it would be lost to unpaid taxes, he returned to find out who had kept the property taxes paid. Unfortunately, he also stopped by the local bar and was greeted by the fist of his nemesis Farrell Craig. The story starts in the state penitentiary where he is serving a year term for assault.

Johnny is offered a chance of parole if he will spend the summer working for Mae Chapman, an aging plantation owner. Mae is the one who has been paying his taxes. Jumping at the chance to get out, he returns to the town that hates him intending to pay his work debt and leave forever. Mae's granddaughter Nicole has come home to live and believing the gossip about Johnny hopes to speed his exit.

But Nicole realizes that her grandmother is happier with Johnny around, and she is also slowly drawn to him, but the town reacts with the narrow-minded hatred often found in vigilante thinking.

Nicole is in flight. Fleeing from grief from the loss of her parents in a recent accident, the loss of her child she miscarried, and from the lover who walked when he discovered she was pregnant. In this state of mind, Nicole is not exactly receptive to the town bad boy. It is to the author's credit that she can make these two very diverse people fall in love easily and naturally.

The romance leads the mystery and the reader gradually becomes aware that there is more to the animosity against Johnny than is logically justified. This builds to a crescendo very quickly, but it does not seem to detract.

Wendy Rosnau captures the essence of small town southern life and weaves it gently through the themes of the book. Although Johnny is not totally likeable in the beginning, she eases the reader to a state of acceptance and then genuine fondness. The momentum Rosneau has set for herself with The Long Hot Summer bodes well for her future novels.

--Thea Davis


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