If Patricia Vaughn’s follow-up to Murmur of Rain is half as excellent as this book is, then it’s a tragic loss that only a pair of her historical romances saw publication.Murmur of Rain by Patricia Vaughn
Illustrator: Dominick Finelle
Published by: Pocket Books
Genres: Black or Afro American Romance, Gothic Romance, Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Romance with Rape Element
Buy on: Amazon, AbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader
SPOILER ALERT ⚠
Books like Murmur of Rain by Patricia Vaughn are why I adore the romance genre. This 1996 novel, published by Pocket Books, caught me by surprise with its mesmerizing storytelling. From the first page, the exquisite prose of this Gothic-tinged historical romance captured my attention.
The heroine is a lovely black French woman, Lauren Dufort, who lives in Paris in 1891. Lauren captures the heart of the cultured and wealthy Roget de Martier with her beauty and talent for music. Later, she is introduced to an exotic world across the sea, where danger looms.
Lauren will discover that beneath the luxury of Roget’s plantation home, Villa de Martier, lies a family history shrouded in darkness. She will be caught in an evil web of familial entanglements where darkness rules the day.
Despite her challenges, Lauren remains determined to reclaim the passion and happiness she and Roget once had. But will murder and death thwart her dreams?
Murmur of Rain has a rich cast of characters whose lives we encounter throughout Lauren and Roget’s love story. When the book opens, an awful tragedy will impact the heroine’s life.
A run-away trolley roars down the street and crashes into a group of pedestrians. One unfortunate woman is crushed under the wheels and horses’ hooves. The woman had been carrying a babe in her arms, and before the trolley ran her over, she instinctively threw her child into the crowd. As if guided by Providence, an onlooker was able to catch the child.
A boy watching the horrible events recognizes the dying African woman as the wife of a local French clerk.
The clerk, Jean Dufort, arrives too late and sobs as he sees his wife’s broken body. The woman who saved his daughter passes the infant into her father’s arms. As the weeping Jean embraces his child, he realizes he must do all that’s possible for his daughter to prosper now that her mother, Ndate, is dead.
The babe is our heroine, Lauren Dufort, who grows to be a stunning young lady.
Lauren Dufort, Our Heroine
After the opening, Lauren stands on the docks of Le Havre, about to set sail to the Caribbean with her new husband, Roget. Patricia Vaughn weaves in and out of the “present” and the past with flashbacks for the reader to relive Lauren’s and Roget’s whirlwind romance.
Lauren’s father was not wealthy, but he worked hard to send her to a fine boarding school. There, Lauren feels like an outsider due to her poor station. Although she has a friend or two, her only joy is learning to play the piano, and she becomes an accomplished performer.
Soon after Lauren leaves school, her father passes away. She goes to live with his sister, Claude, who runs a popular hôtel. Claude throws lavish parties that attract an eclectic array of customers.
The older woman loves her niece dearly but knows Lauren’s future holds few possibilities for happiness. As mulâtresse with soft seal-brown curls, honey-gold skin, and hazel eyes, Lauren is stunning. Nevertheless, her racial heritage precludes her from meeting a marriageable man of quality.
So Lauren uses her talent as a pianist to support herself in her white aunt’s hôtel. It is only during those moments that Lauren does find that elusive happiness.
An Unlikely Proposal of Love
When alive, Jean Dufort had bemoaned the unfairness of his daughter’s few opportunities, despite her beauty, excellent manners, and good education. If Lauren had been male, more avenues would have been open to her in French Society (as had been for the biracial grandson of a slave, Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, and for his son as well).
But as a mixed-race black woman, much of polite Society was closed to her.
One night a handsome, elegant man dressed in finery and accompanied by gentlemanly friends comes to the hôtel. Transfixed, he watches Lauren perform. She, too, is immediately enchanted by this glorious male and hopes he returns to see her perform again.
The gentleman does just that and introduces himself to Lauren as Roget de Martier of Haiti.
Roget and Lauren cannot deny their attraction to one another. He sweeps her off her feet in a whirlwind courtship, and they hastily marry. Lauren is on cloud nine, ecstatic and in love, thinking little of the world she leaves behind as she and Roget set sail for his plantation home.
Arrival in The Land of High Mountains
At first, Lauren is excited to see Villa de Martier and only dreams of the pleasure she and her husband will share there.
However, beneath the affluent exterior of the plantation lies a troubled family history. Roget has two brothers, the older and menacing Gaston–who is married to the well-pedigreed Reinette–and the younger, effete, and very unmarried Antoine. Also residing at Villa de Martier is their mother, Madame de Martier, a widow of eleven years, whose secret drinking habit is perhaps the worst-kept of the family’s many secrets.
As the second son of one of Haiti’s most prominent families, Roget shocks everyone when he introduces his bride–a mulatto with no name or fortune–to Haitian Society. Due to her origins as a daughter of an African slave and a French nobody, Lauren finds herself ostracized by the class-conscious elite.
Moreover, she struggles against Roget’s overbearing relatives. Lauren is used as a pawn in the games of familial strife. Far from finding a loving home, evil lurks everywhere at Villa de Martier. There is hostility from all corners, although she finds an ally in Antoine, who has his own secrets.
And then there is Lucienne, Roget’s erstwhile lover. Or is she still his current mistress?
The Specter of le Diable
Within the Haitian nights’ darkness is the creeping specter of demonic elements. Is someone using voodoo to harm the family? When unpredictable deaths hit close to home, the danger must be rooted in occult forces!
As troubles set in, a divide grows between Lauren and the husband she desperately adores. She experiences Roger’s cold neglect even as she carries out her assigned duties at the plantation. This estrangement allows for lust-crazed Gaston to do his worst to Lauren.
Yes, the heroine is raped in this book–not just by her lecherous brother-in-law. Later, a furious Roget brutally forces himself upon his adoring wife, proving that he, too, is as monstrous as dark creatures that dwell within the jungle depths.
Lauren’s determination and faith in what is right keep her motivated. She can forgive her husband’s ill-use of her; she can overlook his infidelities. However, she cannot live with his contempt and lack of love for her.
Roget avoids her and lets others oppress her. Yet Lauren is unwilling to abandon her love for him. She vows to conquer the demons that haunt him and reclaim their passion.
Can she uncover the heart of the mysteries that haunt the Villa de Martier? And can she make her marriage a lasting, happy one, despite all the obstacles they face?
A devastating force of nature eventually drives home the reality of life: that all things must come to their eventual end.
Although there are numerous love scenes (let’s not mention those instances of forcible rape) in Murmur of Rain, they are not explicit in detail. Instead, the scenes focus on emotion and intensity.
Steam Factor: Not Tropical like Haitian Summers, but Warm like French Springs.
A Tiny Quibble
Murmur of Rain is lovely, although not without flaws. Perhaps Vaughn’s euphemistic writing is a bit florid during the love scenes. Like any good Gothic/Bodice Ripper author, she peppers her sentences with a heaping helping of adjectives.
I didn’t mind any of this, as a well-told story beats technically perfect writing any day. It just needed a teeny bit of trimming to be perfect. None of that changed my perception of this beautiful Gothic-Bodice-Ripper-Black-romance.
And Now A Hefty Dose of Praise
Vaughn’s attention to detail brings the exotic and lush world of Haiti and France to life. She delves deep into cultural nuances, political systems, economy, and Society while also exploring the disparities between wealthy sectors and those with fewer means.
Readers learn about other important aspects of Haitian cultures, such as slavery practices and how men of European heritage had mistresses and “wives” through the Plaçage system. We see why Haiti’s rainforests were destroyed to produce lumber, leaving the land vulnerable to floods and depleted of essential nutrients for farming.
I loved reading how the sweet Lauren drew the cultured and enigmatic Roget de Martier under her spell with her music. She was so content on the ship as they sailed to Haiti, believing in a bright future where nothing could upset their joy.
But if there’s “insta-luv” in the opening chapters, the story must have exciting conflict to make it worthwhile. Well, there certainly is here!
Despite many obstacles, Lauren is unwilling to abandon her love for Roget and vows to conquer the demons that haunt him and the danger that permeates Villa de Martier.
The plot is full of mystery, causing one to wonder why Roget behaves as he does. Only little by little is the truth revealed. All in all, this is an exciting and unputdownable read.
Murmur of Rain is a must-read for those who love epic historical novels that feature heroines with grit, many twists and turns, plus themes that examine some darker aspects of human relationships.
Final Analysis of Murmur of Rain
Like the exceptional Teresa Denys, Patricia Vaughn only published two historical romances. Both ladies’ books are out-of-print, hard to find, and a bit pricey if you do. Murmur of Rain is worth getting if you can.
The Gothic tone, the bodice-ripper elements, the delicate yet resilient heroine, the vivid characterization, the attention to historical attitudes and details, and the intense love story combined to make a remarkable and compelling tale—a powerful testament to Patricia Vaughn’s skills as a novice author.
Simply put, Murmur of Rain is a must-read for anyone who loves a captivating and emotionally charged romance.
“You make love like a demimondaine, fall on your face like a school girl, and still manage to behave like a lady in the salon. My ancestors will probably rise from their graves…but ma chérie, I would not trade you for all the black gold in Haiti. I want to live with you, make love with you, fight with you, and die with you…if our Father in heaven so desires.”
Lauren’s graceful fingers closed around his, and as their hands clung to each other in an embrace, Lauren knew heaven had granted him that wish.Murmur of Rain by Patricia Vaughn
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He gave her an illustrious name, a vast plantation, and a steamy paradise…but at which price? In the lush tropics, a mysterious family, intrigue, and sinister forces threaten to tear apart a love beyond compare…
For a young woman with limited marriage prospects, Paris in the 1890s was hardly an easy place to survive. But Lauren Dufort, headstrong, lovely, and bursting with life, could rely on her exquisite gift as a pianist to sustain herself. When her fingers alight into a moving rhapsody, Lauren is the enchantress…until one evening she draws a man into her spell who will change her life forever.
Cultured, enigmatic, strong and sensuous as a panther, Roget de Martier sends Lauren into a furious tumult of passion, introducing her to an exotic world far across the sea. But beneath the opulent exterior of the Villa de Martier lies a troubling family history and a menacing cast of characters with a penchant for evil.
Caught in a web of familial decay, ostracized from the class-conscious elite, Lauren is soon cut off from her beloved husband who has apparently deceived her. Unable to abandon so powerful a love, Lauren vows to conquer the demons that haunt her husband and reclaim the passion and the glory that is theirs alone…Murmur of Rain by Patricia Vaughn