Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Wilds of the Bayou #1
Published by Montlake Romance on April 5th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
The bones said death was comin’, and the bones never lied.
While on an early morning patrol in the swamps of Whiskey Bayou, Louisiana wildlife agent Gentry Broussard spots a man leaving the home of voodoo priestess Eva Savoie—a man who bears a startling resemblance to his brother, whom Gentry thought he had killed during a drug raid three years earlier. Shaken, the agent enters Eva’s cabin and makes a bloody discovery: the old woman has been brutally murdered.
With no jurisdiction over the case, he’s forced to leave the investigation to the local sheriff, until Eva’s beautiful heir, Celestine, receives a series of gruesome threats. As Gentry’s involvement deepens and more victims turn up, can he untangle the secrets behind Eva’s murder and protect Celestine from the same fate? Or will an old family curse finally have its way?
From award-winning author Susannah Sandlin comes the first book in the Wilds of the Bayou series.
If you are looking for romantic suspense that is just a touch creepy but is still firmly planted in the real world, run, don’t walk to get a copy of this book. I’ll confess to loving all of Susannah Sandlin/Suzanne Johnson’s work, but Wild Man’s Curse was simply marvelous.
She always does an excellent job of painting the setting of her stories, and this one is no exception. Wild Man’s Curse mostly takes place in Terrebonne Parish, on the swampy southern coast of Louisiana. It is one of those places that is losing ground to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, literally. It is also a place where the gumbo of Cajun culture is still alive and well, preserved in fish camps and tiny houses all up and down the bayous.
Both Gentry Broussard and Celestine Savoie are children of those swamps. But they are both all grown up now, and dealing with deadly legacies and cursed inheritances that have passed from mother to child, or from brother to brother.
Ceelie’s great aunt Eva is brutally murdered in her house on Wild Man’s Bayou. Gentry is the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) agent who discovers her slashed body and witnesses her murderer running away. But he doesn’t believe the man he saw leaving could possibly be real because Gentry knows he killed his brother Lang in a drug-bust shootout three years ago in New Orleans. But the killer looks much too much like Lang to be a coincidence.
Ceelie Savoie is old Eva’s great-niece, and her last living relative. Ceelie inherits Eva’s cabin, along with the ire of whoever killed the old woman. Ceelie has also inherited Eva’s talent for “reading the bones”, even if her skills are rusty. In that melange of French, Spanish, Cajun and Creole culture that makes up the Louisiana swampland, Eva was a practitioner of some of the arts we think of as voodoo. And so, much to her surprise, is Ceelie.
So Ceelie comes home to Wild Man’s Bayou from a floundering attempt at a singing career in Nashville. She has no place else to go. But she promised her late father that she wouldn’t stay in Terrebonne, so she’s planning to clean up Eva’s estate and take her inheritance elsewhere. No matter how much the swamp calls her back home.
And no matter how attracted she is to Gentry Broussard. And very definitely vice-versa.
But before she can even think of leaving, Ceelie and Gentry have to figure out who targeted the old woman, and what on earth they wanted from an old lady who didn’t seem to own anything beyond a well-tended shack in the back country. And for Gentry, he needs to know if the reports of his brother’s death are, as they say, greatly exaggerated. Because if Lang is still alive, it’s entirely possible that Gentry is going to have to kill him again.
If only to prevent Lang from taking away the woman that Gentry has come to love.
Escape Rating A: Wild Man’s Curse is pure romantic suspense, and it is absolutely marvelous. If you have been considering reading one of Sandlin/Johnson’s books but we’re turned off by the paranormal, this one will get you hooked for sure.
The voodoo practice in this story is of the tarot card/ crystal ball variety, not that either of those elements is used. The story works perfectly well whether the reader or the characters have any belief in the supernatural or not. Some of the key characters are superstitious, but then, lots of people are. Eva and Ceelie’s ability to “read the bones” only provides them with vague warnings, and it is clear in the story that those warnings aren’t enough to prevent events, only to help them prepare a little.
The suspense element in the story is what keeps it moving along at a pulse-pounding rate. Gentry isn’t sure that he’s seen Lang, and with good reason. So there’s a big element of the story of Gentry owning up to seeing his dead brother, and putting resources in place to take care of the threat. As well as Gentry eating a lot of professional crow because he doesn’t warn people soon enough.
A big part of the investigation is just trying to determine how everything ties together. There are a lot of questions, and at the beginning, very few answers. We get to watch as Gentry, Ceelie, the detectives from LDWF, the Parish police and everyone else work to find the missing link between old Eva Savoie and young Lang Broussard, as well as trying to discover what the secretive old woman might have owned that would be worth torturing and killing her for, as well as worth continuing to hunt Ceelie for.
The secondary characters are also well done. Gentry’s LDWF partner is terrific. It is marvelous to see male-female police partners who have no sexual chemistry. They are partners. They are almost siblings. But while they each appreciate the scenery, there is no sexual tension at all. And I like Jena and hope there’s a book and romance in her future.
The romance between Gentry and Ceelie burns hot from the very beginning. But they both rightly resist the impulse for as long as they can, ramping up the tension every step of the way. While Gentry’s dog Hoss steals his every scene along with Ceelie’s, and the reader’s, heart.
I loved this first entry in the Wilds of the Bayou series, and absolutely can’t wait for more.