Half Moon Bay

The Hideaway

Tempting Fate

Trust No One

Unforgettable

 
Closer Than She Thinks
by Meryl Sawyer
(Zebra, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-8217-7211-2
***
There’s a certain kind of romantic suspense novel that I call “Southern Gothic.” Set in the south (obviously), these tales have as their basis, all kinds of twisted family relationships that propel the plot onward. Meryl Sawyer twists things up with the best of them in her New Orleans set story of secrets, betrayals, and danger.

Many years ago, Alyssa Rossi fled New Orleans to Italy after being accused of a horrible crime. Now she is going home. Her successful jewelry business has been purchased by TriTech Industries. In exchange for access to capital and markets, she has agreed to return to the site of her unhappiness. Little does she know that Clay Duvall, the man she once loved, has arranged the deal to bring her back within his orbit.

TriTech CEO, Jake Williams, is surprised to discover that his company has purchased Rossi Designs while he was out of the country. Sure, he had given Clay Duvall the authority to make minor purchases, but a jewelry firm seems a strange acquisition for a company that specializes in high tech business. Still, his father Max wants to keep the Duvalls happy. They are his entree to New Orleans society and a support for his political ambitions.

Jake has little time for social aspirations. He had not even known his father until nine years earlier, when Max showed up on his doorstep and offered him a chance to be his heir. Since then, he has learned the business well enough to take over. His suspicions lead him to begin an investigation into Alyssa which leads to Clay which rekindles interest into an old kidnapping which leads perhaps to the murder of a potential witness.

Alyssa’s discovery that Clay has lured her back to New Orleans comes as a shock. They had fallen in love while she was in college, but he had married her cousin Phoebe when she claimed she was carrying his baby. After all, a LeCroix was a much better match than a poor, dependent cousin. Obviously Clay, unhappily married, has never forgotten his first love. But Alyssa finds her one time love less appealing than her new CEO.

The plot of Closer Than She Thinks has too many twists and turns to be readily described. It also has an expansive cast of characters - and I mean characters. There is the social climbing Max, the unhappy, promiscuous Phoebe, her unbalanced mother Hattie and ineffectual father Norman; there is the slimy Clay and his mistress and her special psychic, Dante. There is also the city of New Orleans itself, which is almost as much a character as anyone in the story. Sawyer provides a look into both the Crescent City’s high society and its low life.

Of course, there is also the romance of Alyssa and Jake. They start out slightly antagonistic, but they have something in common. They are both outsiders in the hothouse society of New Orleans. Alyssa grew up as the LaCroix’s unwanted poor relation, always compared unfavorably with her cousin Phoebe, always made to feel like an outsider and ultimately betrayed by the man she thought she loved. Jake grew up poor, ignored by his absent father who was too busy making a fortune to consider his divorced wife and abandoned son. He finds Alyssa, a woman who has risen above a past scandal to make something of herself, a welcome change from the women he has known. Sawyer makes their romance completely believable and enjoyable.

Closer Than She Thinks has numerous good qualities: a good romance, an interesting suspense plot, a fascinating setting. It also has a few elements that keep me from recommending it. First, Sawyer uses “villain sex” to make her story hotter and, in my opinion, moves beyond good taste to shankiness. Second, the “southern gothic” elements were just a tad overdone. Finally, the ending was just a bit over the top. Readers with more tolerance for these qualities may not share my reservations. I have to admit that Closer Than She Thinks kept me turning the pages.

--Jean Mason


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