Praise saints, I finally finished The Southern Devil by Diane Whiteside yesterday. I liked it a lot better than The Irish Devil (the only other Whiteside novel I've read), but it still ends up being just an average read. Let's hash it out together shall we?
Jessamyn Tyler Evans has a problem. She had to sell her family's Tennessee horse farm during the Civil War to pay for her father's medical care (he died of cancer). Now the new owners want to turn around and sell it, along with the fine horseflesh, to her odious cousin Charlie. Luckily for our girl the original terms of the sale stipulate that she has 6 months to make a counter offer and buy the place back. Not so lucky for our girl - she's a penniless Army widow.
The answer to her prayers comes when her Uncle dies. He left identical maps to both her and Charlie telling the location of a legendary stash of gold. But she needs to find a husband in order to attend the reading of that will. Enter our hero...
Morgan Evans is not terribly happy with Jessamyn. He was a Confederate spy during the war and Jessamyn thwarted a top secret mission he was on. He vowed revenge, then the girl married his upstanding, Union officer cousin, Cyrus. Cyrus is now dead, and Morgan is determined to get Jessamyn panting for him in bed (and out of bed - the guy is inventive). He thinks that the secret stash of gold is a bunch of hooey, but Jessamyn is desperate. So desperate to save the family farm before Yellow Fever season strikes Memphis that she tells Morgan she'll do anything if he helps her. Anything.
So what doesn't work? Well the biggest problem I had was Jessamyn's motives. The author spends a lot of time on back-story and in flashbacks to the War. Morgan shows up, tells Jessamyn's father his plans and is warned that Jessamyn has "Unionist sympathies." Why? Well we never find out. Frankly, I need a reason here. The girl is raised a lady on a Tennessee horse farm (yes, a slave state). Her father fights in the Confederate army. Their neighbors and friends all support the Rebel cause. I don't care if she was "allowed" to debate and discuss politics, I need a better reason than that. I just do. Call me wacky.
Also, the slavery issue is really glossed over. During the flashback, Morgan muses that he doesn't have a lot of experience with women because he left for the Wild West at such a young age. See, he was too young to learn the birds and bees in the slave quarters. Hey, I know this happened - but frankly I don't want my hero admitting it. Also, this Rebel spy sets all his slaves free when the war breaks out. Huh? And he muses that Jessamyn's father would be proud of him for that fact since he apparently doesn't own slaves on an extemely successful horse farm. Yet there are people of color on the farm. Does he pay them wages or what? Jessamyn also helped one of the servants spirit his daughter away on the Underground Railroad. Hey, I know there were southerners who didn't 1) own slaves or 2) believe in the practice. And I know the war was about more than slavery. But seriously, I just didn't buy the relationship that Jessamyn and her father had with the servant staff. It was just too PC - almost like they were one big, happy family.
Ultimately I think this book would have worked better with a larger page count. It sort of reminded me the romantic sagas that were popular 20 years ago. Also, I was curious about Jessamyn's first marriage (a happy one from what I can figure out), her husband's death (the cause of which we don't find out until the last 75 pages or so) and the multitude of secondary characters. Also it took me forever to figure out how this book fit into the Devil series. In the nutshell - Villain Charlie is the bad guy in The Irish Devil and Morgan works for William Donovan, the hero from The Irish Devil. Whiteside really should devote a page on her web site to explaining the series dynamic to folks.
So where does that leave us. I wanted more - which is a bit out of norm for me since I usually like my books lean and mean. Anything over 500 pages has a tendency to feel padded. That said, this book would have worked very well at that length (or longer). There was just too much unexplained for my liking. Oh, and the sex? Lots of Domination/submission stuff and pretty hot. But it wasn't enough to override my nit-picking.
Final Grade = C.