Southern Comfort, by Fern Michaels

Southern Comfort

By Fern Michaels

Reviewed by Philip K. Jason


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     Fern Michaels is a writing machine. Best known for the Sisterhood and Godmothers series, she has over 75 million books in print and is still going strong. Though she grew up in Hastings, Pennsylvania, Ms. Michaels moved to South Carolina in 1993. She has continued to flourish as a best-selling author, adopting the American South and making it the setting for some of her recent works. Southern Comfort is not only one of her latest novels (she writes so many that several can be “new” at the same time), but perhaps also a way of talking about Fern Michaels’ relationship with her adopted home territory.

     Southern Comfort is part mystery, part romance – with the romance element trumping the mystery plot. Though essentially a novel for women, it includes several well-drawn male characters and avoids being defined as solely or merely a read for women. Set primarily in Miami and the Florida Keys, it features a mysterious mansion on Mango Key, a retired police officer who has become a best-selling author, a prominent Florida family, and a group of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents.

     One of these agents is Kate Rush, an attractive and dedicated woman who finds that she has denied too much of her personality and zest for life in the routines and petty politics of her job. The last straw is the cruel, demeaning behavior of her superior, Lawrence Tyler, whose insolence and mean-spirited manner drive her (and others) to leave the agency. Agent Tyler, son of Florida’s governor, is a man of many weaknesses and insecurities who overcompensates by bullying others. Readers wonder if he has any redeeming qualities.

     Kate decides to return to her native Miami and finish up a doctorate program she has put on hold. Coincidentally, her friend and DEA coworker Sandra Martin takes a similar path and joins Kate at the University of Miami. It stretches probability and does nothing to advance the plot when both women emerge less than a year later with Ph.D. degrees. However, it does get them to Miami and within range of a DEA office that is looking into what might be a major case.

     Astonishingly indifferent to whatever their advanced degrees have prepared them for, Kate and Sandra become unofficially connected with this case, headed up by Arnold “Jelly” Jellard, a good friend and true professional. Indeed, there is something very suspicious going on at that mysterious mansion on Mango Key. But what?

     There is also something else going on there: the slow recovery of Patrick “Tick” Kelly from the alcoholism and desperation that followed the murder of his wife and two young children some seven years back. Tick, a retired police officer, is living in relative isolation. A mystery to others, he has become a successful mystery writer. His twin brother, Pete, comes to visit Tick and begins to make some headway in drawing him out of his self-imposed shell.

     When the two men meet Kate and Sandra, Tick’s defenses begin to fall away. And when they become curious about what’s happening at the mansion, Tick’s policeman past lures him into action.

     What Fern Michaels has in store for readers on the novel’s mystery level is ugly and frightening. What she has in store on the romance level is uplifting and healing.

     And there is some whacky humor in store as well. Tick has adopted a parrot that undoubtedly once belonged to people who lived at the mansion. Simply named “Bird,” the parrot speaks gibberish that is hard to understand – not the words, but the missing context. Often, Bird’s rants are uproariously funny. However, the characters and readers slowly learn that Bird’s utterances have something to do with conversations overheard in the mansion. Hints of the crime are lurking in Bird’s linguistic memory.

     This witty device works well, as does the author’s portrait of this sparsely populated island and its culture. As does her handling of South Florida’s weather.

     As the beach reading it is meant to be, Southern Comfort succeeds on many levels. What is most satisfying, however, is how Fern Michaels develops the relationships she has set in motion. Southern Comfort ends with three marriages. Need I say more?

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 Southern Comfort is Fern Michaels’ latest release (April 26, 2011). For a bigger bite of her work, try a few of these recommended by SLR contributors.


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