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Published in 2012 by Crimson Romance.

Chance encounters have an often-mystifying way of turning one’s life around. This is the case for Second Lieutenant Adrian Mendez and Cory Phillips, who meet under unfortunate circumstances at a police station, in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Mendez, a former U.S. Marine, has returned to his homeland of Trinidad, in the interests of serving and protecting his countrymen. Instantly mesmerized by what he describes as Cory’s “sun-kissed island goddess” beauty, Adrian soon comes to realize that the alluring, intelligent Ms. Phillips is unlike any woman he’s ever known. As he steadily falls for her, despite the cautions of his closely-guarded heart, Cory also struggles with her feelings for this enigmatic, dashing military man. As a woman with more than ample reason to despise the armed forces and what they represent, the island goddess’ emotions for this man in uniform are complex from the very start. Will this stop them from expressing their truest selves beneath the relentless blaze of the Trinidadian sun?

As a debut offering, Island Pursuits plays it close to the traditional structure and character development of any successful romance novel. There are no bold narrative leaps of experimentation made here; nor will the reader find any genre-defying calculations intended to push the romantic envelope. This is one of the ways in which the story is safe: it tells the tale of relatable people, alternately pursuing or fleeing from desire that threatens to overwhelm them with its intensity. The chronicle of Cory and Adrian’s fiery courtship cannot be said to break moulds or pioneer inventive new structures for romance writing. Thankfully, the novel is far from being a colour-by-numbers affair. Although the character types are ones that fall into neat archetypes – the courageous soldier torn between duty and ardour; the feisty career woman who’s been once burnt, twice shy – Rodney-Diaz serves them up with humour, framing them in believable situations as opposed to fantastical ones.

What is most laudable about the novel is that it is set on Caribbean soil: not the Caribbean of an idealized weekend getaway, not a foreigner’s beach idyll, but the living and breathing entity that is an everyday Trinidad and Tobago. The fact that the story is grounded in an environment so largely unexplored by mainstream writers of romance fiction is one of its highest points of merit. The reader has the luxury of a true immersion of place, within these pages. She can relate immediately, for instance, to the sights and sounds evoked by a run around the Queen’s Park Savannah.

“They started walking at first, making small talk with each other along the way as Gothic churches, historic buildings, the U.S. Embassy, the Zoo, and the President’s House all came into their view. They spoke about their day and week so far, about the extremely hot weather and Carnival coming up.”

The author captures without unnecessary embellishment details that might otherwise be lost in a different climate, or on chillier shores. Much of Trinidad and Tobago’s natural beauty is on display in the novel, interspersed with highlights of the nation’s dynamic culture. Witness, for instance, these familiar descriptions of Carnival’s colourful spectacle: “Already runaway beads and other remnants of discarded costumes lay strewn about the streets. Varying hues of brightly coloured materials in golds and oranges, blues and greens dazzled in the midday sun.”

One hardly expects issues of a serious nature to be given much scope in the romance genre, but beneath the adult-scenario sizzle, many books of this persuasion tackle concerns that are more troubling than a cheating boyfriend’s roving eye. Island Pursuits continues admirably in this tradition, focusing on injustices within the judicial and protective services systems. Rodney-Diaz writes bravely and convincingly of the dangers that form an uneasy part of opposing the law, even when one is on the side of the innocent. There are deep-seated troubles at the heart of this complicated land we inhabit, and oftentimes the rewards for persistence may seem uncertain. Her characters have their own burdens to bear, and do not seek love out as a Band-Aid for all their worries. Love, however, continues to be a reliable anchor in the world crafted by the author.

This review first appeared in its entirety in the Trinidad Guardian‘s Sunday Arts Section on October 14th, 2012, entitled Love, Trinidadian-style.

A free electronic copy of this novel was provided by Heather Rodney-Diaz for review. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own, and are not influenced by her generous gift of gratuitous literature.

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