Blending intrigue with the story of a woman’s journey of self-discovery and forgiveness, Mindy Starns Clark’s WHISPERS OF THE BAYOU is an engaging tale of suspense set in post-Katrina Louisiana.
Protagonist Miranda Miller is an art restoration specialist who works in a Manhattan museum --- and whose life is about to radically change. Although Miranda loves her architect husband, Nathan, and her five-year-old daughter, Tess, her emotions are in the deep freeze. Increasingly, Nathan is unhappy with her inability to rely on him for emotional support, and her numbness is beginning to show up in her relationship with Tess as well. What is evident, as the story opens, is that something in Miranda’s past has blocked her ability to be vulnerable and to love.
Reflects Miranda: “The truth was that I knew very little about my family in Louisiana or even my own late mother --- and it didn’t help matters that I had not one single memory from the part of my childhood when I lived down there myself. All I knew was that my mom died in a tragic accident when I was young and that AJ, her sister, had subsequently been given custody of me, her five-year-old niece…I had never returned to Louisiana since.”
When Miranda is attacked on her way to lunch, it triggers a series of events that will take her from Manhattan back to her roots in Louisiana, and to a painful time that she has erased from her memory. A secret symbol tattooed on her scalp from childhood may help unlock the past. As she tries to understand the attack, Miranda discovers that her Aunt AJ, who has raised her since she was five, has hidden correspondence from a dying man in an old Louisiana mansion that will soon be hers. His letters propel her to his side and invite her to explore the mystery of her estranged father, her mother’s death and the events that traumatized her in her youth.
Clark incorporates some nice bits of Cajun history into her narrative, and readers will be introduced (through Miranda’s research) to the Piziquid Valley region of Nova Scotia, one of the last Acadian villages to be invaded by the British. The backdrop of the Louisiana bayou country and its interesting flora (and its contrast to Miranda’s home in New York City) lends interest to the story. The dialogue between the characters moves smoothly, and the pacing is quick enough to keep the pages turning.
No stranger to suspense, Clark is the author of the Smart Chick Mysteries series and the Million Dollar Mysteries. If she errs, it is piling on too many surprises at the end of the story. One or two of the plot twists would have been plenty; as it is, the reader will need to suspend disbelief to grasp all of the ramifications of the closing pages. It is also difficult to believe that Miranda could have reached adulthood without ever investigating her past. In the end, the actual solution to the riddle of the tattoo is less interesting than the journey Miranda undertakes to understand her heritage and herself.
Faith themes in the book are integrated throughout in a natural way. As Miranda delves into her past and meets her relatives in Louisiana, she begins to rethink Christianity. Nathan, who is working on construction of a new church, is also drawn toward spiritual things. Miranda eventually realizes that to come to terms with her past --- and to connect with Nathan in the way he desires --- may require help from a more powerful source than her own self-reliance.
If you haven’t read Clark’s mysteries before, or have an interest in Cajun country, then you should find WHISPERS OF THE BAYOU to be an entertaining read.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on November 13, 2011