In The Midnight Rain
by Ruth Wind, contemporary (2000)
Harper, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-103012-0

I never thought I'd say this, but dang, I wish the romance in In The Midnight Rain is shoved into the sidelines! Somewhere in ITMR is a heartbreaking story of love lost and the strength of womenkind, but all potentially interesting drama is shoved off the limelight in favor of a dull, pretty much by-the-book romance. Ooh, priorities, people! Priorities!

Forget the technical differences between Romance and Women's Fiction (this book is marketed as the latter) - this story is a romance. Period.

Ellie Connor is a biographer whose latest project is piecing the life of blues diva Mabel Buvais for an autobiography. Mabel just vanished one day in 1953, when she has a whole career ahead of her. What happened? Also, Ellie has another agenda. Her research takes her to the very place where her mother may have conceived her. She also hopes to piece together the identity of her father as well as what happened between her mother - who left her to die of an overdose alone, far from home - and her father.

Her research takes her to Pind Bend and right into the arms of "Blue" Reynard, a brilliant botanist who must have single-handedly kept the bourbon industry afloat with his nightly drunkfest. Sparks fly.

Ellie is a wonderful heroine, funny yet vulnerable as she tries so hard to piece together the mysteries of her mother as well as that of Mabel Buvais. Indeed, Mabel Buvais has a tragic sad story to tell. And Ellie's own parents have a tragic story of young love lost to tell.

But what do I get instead? Endless flirting between Bourbon, sorry, Blue and Ellie that go nowhere. I get restless. "Enough flirting and push and pull tactics, damn it! Get on with the Mummy hunting!" I keep telling Ellie.

The biggest flaw of ITMR is Blue, who seems to have no purpose in this story apart from drinking and evoking Ellie's feminine sympathies. You poor thing, awww, give Ellie a hug, that sort of thing. Apart from his foregone brilliance in botany, he has little charisma to carry the story.

Also, I am very disappointed with the characterization of Blue's buddy, Marcus, who ends up being yet another one of those silent Black buddy sort who Knows A Big Secret but Won't Tell It Until It's Closing Time. Stereotyping can get so boring, you know. The whole story is pretty predictable, really - Ellie and Blue kissy-wissies along as they interview nice, charming people, until it's close to the ending and suddenly everyone can't blab fast enough secrets that they guarded so closely earlier.

Not that ITMR is a bad book. Ms Wind is too skilful an author who can convey the most poetic moments of heartbreak and strength in elegantly simple prose. The epilogue and flashbacks of the past move me to tears. But ITMR is also disappointing because the secondary characters have so many stories to tell - Rosemary, Ellie's mother, Mabel, Connie, all of these people who have been through so much. But what is served instead is Blue and Ellie's The Hallmark Muzak of The Week Hour. Two young people, a man with a whiny self-pity problem and a woman who puts up with his nonsense, hogging the limelight instead. It's so unfair.

ITMR is more of a mediocre TV Movie event that only hints at the glorious book it can be, I'm afraid. Play the blues, someone. I'm so disappointed.

Rating: 79

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