cover image When Venus Fell

When Venus Fell

Deborah Smith. Bantam Books, $23.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-553-11143-9

Louisiana bohemian Venus Arinelli and Tennessee aristocrat Gib Cameron, the protagonists of this well-meaning but strained romance, come from very different, but equally tragic, backgrounds. Venus had her dreams of a career as a classical pianist dashed by scandal when her Japanese-Italian, nightclub-owner father died in prison, having been accused of murdering a federal judge. Gib became a member of the Secret Service after an IRA bomb killed his parents on vacation in England. Yet the families forged a bond when Venus's parents were married at the Cameron family inn in 1968, its first year of operation. Thirty years later, Gib--a man who represents everything that tough Venus hates--shows up, with a big surprise and a desperate proposition, at the bar where Venus and her dotty sister, Ella, are performing as lounge musicians. It seems Mr. Arinelli left his daughters $100,000, possibly dirty money, in the Camerons' hands. Gib will turn the money over to them, no questions asked, if they return to the inn and, by their presence, help him persuade his relatives not to sell. Smith (A Place to Call Home) comes on like Kaye Gibbons with humor; her tale of redemption and learning to trust again is by turns sad, funny and touching. But given the blithe improbability of the setup, Gib's earnest flag-waving and Venus's spitfire anti-establishment views do little to endear us to either character. (July)