Magnolia Moon has been a hard book to review, so hard I’ve been wrestling with the review for more than a month after finishing the book. I enjoyed reading it, and when I had to set it down at the end of a night, I spent much of the next day looking forward to getting back to it. Ross is a talented writer, so much so that I was able to get past a hero who normally would not have worked for me at all and some small weaknesses in the plot. In the end, though, the story has to hold up, and this one is a little too soft and predictable to completely satisfy.
Nate Callahan is the mayor of Blue Bayou, Louisiana and son of the town’s former sheriff. While conducting a search for a new sheriff, he finds a file containing stock certificates connected to an old murder his father investigated. The case was never solved, and Nate determines that the certificates and other personal items should go to the victim’s daughter, who was claimed by her aunt and taken away from Blue Bayou shortly after the murder.
L.A. homicide detective Regan Hart knows nothing of the woman Nate claims was her mother. An L.A. homicide detective, she grew up believing that the woman who raised her, who now appears to be her aunt, was her mother, and it’s going to take more than one smooth talking good ol’ boy to convince her otherwise. But once she reads a journal Nate gives her which once belonged to the victim, Regan travels to Louisiana to learn the truth about her past and the murder.
Nate is a contemporary Duke of Slut, a man who has spent his life hopping from woman’s bed to the next. The author introduces him on the very first page in bed with his latest temporary lover. She starts to talk commitment, and that’s the end of that. Right from the start the author seems to be taking the easy way out with the character to make him more acceptable as a romance hero. The woman in question starts talking about love and marriage in the most annoying way possible, allowing Nate to extricate himself without coming across as the hound he clearly is. I haven’t read the other books in this trilogy, so I don’t know if Ross was backpedaling from the way he was portrayed in those, but it felt like a bit of cheat. As much as I liked Nate, and he is suitably charming and a nice guy, a part of me refused to be convinced that his interest in Regan wasn’t merely a passing fancy. There simply wasn’t enough of a basis that this was actually the kind of once-in-a-lifetime love that would cause a confirmed bachelor to change his ways.
Regan is a stronger character, kind of like J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas lite, with a bit of the attitude but none of the baggage. She and Nate are well matched. They have a good rapport and decent chemistry. There’s one phone sex scene that shows how Nate, as expected, does know how to give a woman what she wants. That said, though, this isn’t the most passionate or romantic love story ever written. In its own understated way, it is very nice. They are surrounded by a likable cast of supporting characters, and unlike so many small towns in suspense-flavored romances, it’s easy to see why Regan may ultimately want to stay in Blue Bayou.
At the same time there is a useless subplot about a runaway boy who falls under Nate’s care that subtracts more than it adds. It seems artificially attached to Nate and Regan’s story to fill out the requirements of a single-title release. It’s a little too lightweight given the subject matter and serves little purpose overall. I enjoyed Nate and Regan’s interactions far more than any moment in this subplot, and would have rather seen those pages spent on either them or the mystery, which is fairly weak. This is a very common story and Ross doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. While there is one small twist, the murder’s solution is obvious, and the truth just falls into their laps without much effort on the part of Nate and Regan. Then again, this book is billed as romance, not romantic suspense, so maybe that shouldn’t matter.
Magnolia Moon does fit well with its quaint Southern setting. It’s pleasant and warm and leisurely paced. A little less predictability in the plot and a bit more depth in the relationship would have made for a stronger read.