cover image Fire and Rain

Fire and Rain

Diane Chamberlain / Author HarperCollins Publishers $20 (402p)

The venerable theme of the stranger who comes to a community and acts as a catalyst for change and redemption receives an entertaining treatment in this new novel by the author of Lovers and Strangers. Years of drought and devastating brush fires have whittled away at the morale of the inhabitants of Valle Rosa. The fortunes of this quaint Southern California town take a turn for the better, however, when a dark-haired man of mystery who calls himself Jeff Cabrio rides into town in his black Saab, promising that he can make it rain. Along with the much-needed precipitation, the rainmaker brings a regenerative force of healing into the lives of the three townspeople he learns to know best. Thanks to Cabrio's benign influence, Chris Garrett, Villa Rosa's acting mayor, comes to terms with the demise of his career as a professional baseball pitcher. However, Chris's ex-wife, newscaster Carmen Perez, is mistakenly convinced that by unraveling the truth about the new local miracle man she can rehabilitate her foundering career. It is Mia Tanner, a sculptress recovering from a failed love affair and a bout with cancer, who gains the most from Cabrio's brief stay. Though rather breathlessly depicted (``There was exhaustion in his eyes, and something else. Some sadness.''), these characters are easy enough to root for. In fact, as the story progresses, their interlocking plights become engrossing enough to make the momentum-inducing plot elements--the rain-making operation, and Cabrio's mysterious past--seem rather flimsy and peripheral in comparison. A patchwork of flashbacks is smoothly incorporated into the narrative; and nearly every chapter finishes with the sort of emotional jolt that keeps the pages turning. (Apr.)