It’s been a looooonnnnnggg time since a romance novel actually delivered a mystery I couldn’t solve within the first thirty pages – which is probably why I was blown away by the complexity of the premise of new author Anna Sullivan’s first book in her Windfall Island series, Temptation Bay. This new offering gives us a flash of an intriguing mystery with roots in the bootlegging tradition of New England during the Depression, focusing on the present-day reality of an isolated Maine island and the eccentric citizens who live there.
Each book in the Windfall Island series opens with a chapter flashing back to a fateful night in the 1930s when a group of bootleggers smuggling illegal alcohol to and from a ship, the Perdition, watch from the shores as it suddenly explodes off the coast of their tiny Maine island. Having just delivered the booze and some of the partygoers, they are stunned at the thought of the many people now dead, and further astonished when a weak cry of an infant begins to emanate from the bow of their small boat. Someone, clearly from the ship, placed a baby girl – one with an expensive monogrammed blanket and a jeweled necklace – amidst the crates of gin, and the men must decide how to best to hide her since they are more than aware that they would appear complicit in the kidnapping were she to be found.
In the present day, pilot and owner of Temptation Bay’s only airport, Maggie Solomon, is due to pick up a lawyer from the mainland and ferry him to the island. Dexter Keegan is certainly easy on the eye and neither of them care to deny the instant spark between them, but Maggie doesn’t like outsiders, and a lawyer arriving past the tourist season means he’s investigating or suing one of her friends. Since Dexter pumps her for information at every opportunity, offering no information in return, Maggie is having none of it and he’s on his own.
Dexter Keegan is not in fact a lawyer, but is instead a private investigator on the case of a lifetime. A wealthy family, having lost their baby girl during the Depression to a wayward nursemaid bent on a little Jazz Age partying, has never let go of the idea that the baby might have survived, with her possible descendants unaware that they are the heirs to a fortune. Solving such a cold case not only would result in a hefty finder’s fee but also would be the making of this former cop’s reputation, allowing him to establish his business and get him away from the cheating spouse/fraudulent insurance claim cases that are leaving him more jaded than he thought possible.
He also quickly realizes that he chose the wrong profession to impersonate, as none of these tough Yankees are about to open to anyone, particularly a lawyer. Every woman from eighteen to one foot in the grave want him in their bed except the beautiful, tough one who flew him in, and Maggie Solomon is the only one woman he dreams about. But her distrust of men and love seem well-earned when Dexter sees her military father attempt to garner press with his daughter in his bid for a Joint Chiefs position. It’s clear that this man has never accepted Maggie and when it’s revealed that he kicked her and her mother out of the house when she was a mere sixteen, well, that betrayal says it all. And while he’s definitely not out to fall in love, Dexter knows that he will do anything to breach those thick walls around Maggie to get into her bed in order to figure out just who exists under that tough layer.
Wow. Maggie is damaged-with-a-capital-D and this makes it hard going – it’s not so much as she’s unlikeable as she’s unbelievably prickly to the point of never being able to make herself vulnerable to Dex. Yet I still liked her and the insulated community of Windfall Island tremendously. The reason I would use “angsty” to describe the romance is because normally one walled off individual would mean the other half of the couple would be the type to storm the defenses and go all in – but we don’t get that with Dexter. He’s as hesitant and ignorant of his own feelings to the point where he steps in it again and again and you are forced to just watch the implosion, while muttering, “My God, what are you doing??” While all this killed me a little, the mystery and setting were so well done, I just hung in there for the great writing, which did result in a romance pay-off during the thrilling denouement. Wow again!
This mystery is not only its own fantastic device, but provides the story arc for the entire series. The next book (a chapter or two of which is included at the tail end of this one) is Hideaway Cove, which will focus on Maggie best friend and business partner, Jessi, the plucky single mom trying to make ends meet. Genealogist and Southern sweet-talker Holden has already expressed an interest, but it will be great to see them both meet their match in this novel due to be published in late March of 2014. Considering that both this hero and heroine are a lot less closed off than Maggie and Dexter (yet with their own baggage naturally), I’m hoping that the romance between them will be slightly less painful to read (yet still as satisfying to watch unfold).
If I have any criticism to offer, it certainly doesn’t have anything to do with Sullivan’s great writing or fantastic mystery, but rather needs to focus on her lack of marketing presence. In this day and age, I’m astonished to see a debut author of this caliber without a website or Twitter presence! Instead she merely has a basic Facebook author page and the minimum of information on her Goodreads account. I can’t help but notice that despite this book having been released on September 3rd, mine is only one of two ratings of the book on Goodreads (and this book was available via NetGalley as well)! With all the mediocre books being published, it’s unconscionable that one as well written as this – and by Forever Romance publishing, a division of Grand Central – would be unpromoted due to lack of a social presence. Please, Anna Sullivan, work on getting yourself out there! The romance world needs a voice like yours. Since Sullivan kindly cross promotes friend and author Ruth Ryan Langan, perhaps she can get some tips from her about these details (although Langan doesn’t have a Twitter presence either. What gives?)
[9/12/2013 - Publisher Forever Romance nicely contacted me via twitter to let me know that Anna Sullivan thankfully does have a webpage - http://annasullivanbooks.com/ - so I'm going to instead encourage her to get that link in her Facebook and Goodreads pages while fleshing those sources out a little more. Search Engine Optimization is also a must, since as a librarian, I'm pretty good with search engines and I could not find her site! Let's get people finding you, Anna!]
Remember, Anna Sullivan, you write great mysteries but you shouldn’t be one to your readers. You also write romance, so focus instead on making it easy for people to fall in love with you!