High school acquaintances reconnect at a 40th-year reunion and get a chance at a late-in-life love in vibrant New Orleans.
Hannah DuPont-Lowell and St. John McNair knew each other as teenagers, before they graduated and lost touch. Now Hannah, a lawyer, is back in the Crescent City where St. John is a professor, and their chemistry is explosive. Widowed after a troubled marriage, Hannah is wary about men, especially as she is trying to start an inn at her ancestral plantation home after being let go from her New York job. St. John's divorce has left him gun-shy of romance, but he can't stay away from his former study partner. Despite creating an intriguing setup for a mature romance between an African-American Renaissance-man hero and a post-menopausal blonde Southern belle descended from a family of free people of color, Alers (Cherry Lane, 2015, etc.) is uneven in her execution. Topics and actions switch without warning, characters go from discussing solemn memories or beliefs to mundane details with no change in tone, and there are unnecessary references to quotidian tasks. The attention to the racial history of the locale is a strength, particularly Hannah and St. John's conversations about the practice of plaçage (when wealthy white men essentially bought young women of color as mistresses). But this thematic plus is undermined by the work's structural unevenness as well as a recurring hint of misogyny toward women who serve as a foil to the heroine. The last is an especially regrettable tactic in a novel that resembles female-bonding romance series like the Bride Quartet by Nora Roberts.
With more telling than showing, the novel falls short of realizing its potential and capitalizing on its assets: the sensuous Big Easy setting and the rarely encountered middle-age romance.