Thursday, September 26, 2019

Midnight in Ruby Bayou

If you were going to write a romantic suspense novel, could you find a better title?

Faith Donovan creates “...exquisite jewelry studded with fabulous gems...”  

That’s a quote from the cover of Midnight in Ruby Bayou by Elizabeth Lowell, and while I’m definitely prejudiced in favor of gemstones and exquisite jewelry, this sounds like a description that would tempt anyone!  

Faith Donovan makes the jewelry. Owen Walker knows just about everything with respect to rubies. When Faith designs and makes a wedding necklace for a friend, using rubies that have been in the friend’s family for generations (maybe), she’s sucked into family secrets and scandals and becomes the target of some very nasty would-be jewel thieves.  And the FBI.

Owen to the rescue!

While he’s saving her—and the rubies—we also get a goodly helping of  two Mafias, since they think Faith has the Sunrise Ruby,  an exceptionally fine and large (almost 26 carats) stone which sold for over thirty million dollars.  Add a lot of fictional history to a chest full of more superb old rubies, and it’s easy to understand why Faith became a target.

Of course I love the parts with Faith sitting at her jeweler’s bench making that exquisite jewelry or discussing some of her creations with Owen. And I love the way Owen can talk about rubies without making it an  “As you know, Faith, all rubies are...” conversation.  The gemology never gets in the way of a thumping good story.  I just love the book!

An oldie but definitely worth reading.

Monday, September 2, 2019

God's Own Jewel Box

The dazzle, the glitter, the romance of gemstones and jewelry—who can resist it?  The Big Four of precious gems…diamonds sapphires and emeralds and rubies.  The whole shimmering galaxy of semi-precious stones in all the colors of the rainbow.  Peridots and amethysts and tourmalines and citrines and…and...and...  The mystery, the allure, the thrill of finding something so beautiful, so rare, cannot be overstated.  Small wonder then, that gems and jewelry are a staple in romance novels.  I am a gemologist by trade, and thought it would be fun to review some romance novels that focus on gems and jewelry.

Going straight to my keeper shelf, I found seven novels by Elizabeth Lowell/Ann Maxwell about gems.  According to her website ( she started publishing in 1975 and began using the Maxwell name in 1982.  All told, she has written seventy novels in several different genres. Most important for our purposes, she does her homework with respect to the gemology.

The Diamond Tiger, originally published in 1992, is one of my favorites.  What did I love so much about it?  First, we have a competent, successful, independent heroine who isn’t pushy about it.  Then, of course, there’s a fantastically strong, capable, untamable hero.  Yum.  And Australia.  (I’m fascinated by Australia, but will probably never go there because I’m terrified of snakes, of which they have an excessive assortment.)  And finally, the frosting on the cake, we have diamonds.  Alluvial diamonds, which in my imagination are fist-sized, rounded chunks of fabulousness.  What’s 
not to love!

My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that the event that sparked this story was the 1925 discovery of alluvial diamonds in Namaqualand in Africa by Dr. Hans Merensky.

PLOT:  Erin, a successful photographer, inherits a (lost) diamond mine in Australia.  (Yes. Australia has diamonds.)  She hires Cole, a mysterious geologist, to help her find the mine, not knowing that he actually owns half of it.  They go to Australia, where they run afoul of diamond cartel operatives and end up on foot in the Outback.

DISCLAIMER:  In the interests of accuracy, let me point out at the start that nowhere does the author say or imply that the diamonds were fist-sized.  That was entirely my own wishful thinking.

THE TEXT:  Maxwell introduces the diamonds on the first page of chapter one when the hero gets his first look at them.  “Light rippled and shifted as nine translucent stones tumbled over one another with tiny crystalline sounds.”  “The first impression was of large, very roughly made marbles…”  In this first encounter with the diamonds, Cole is shown nine uncut diamonds by his ex-partner, Wing.  In this scene, Lowell establishes the size (large marbles) and origin (roughly made spheres, i.e. alluvial, which means the diamond crystals were carried by a stream and rounded by knocking into each other and rocks) of the gems.  She goes on to note that the ‘marbles’ feel slippery and are heavy for their size.  Cole exhales on a clean, chipped part of the stone, but no moisture collects on it.  (This is a valid indentifier.)

On page two, Cole uses one of the crystals to scratch a piece of lead crystal glass.  I haven’t been able to find a hardness for lead glass, but any diamond will scratch any glass.

Finally, Cole uses his loupe (a 10x magnifier used by gemologists and geologists) to examine the stone.  He is particularly impressed by the refraction (the way the stone interacts with light) and by the color.  This stone is described as the intense green of a river pool and a pool of intense emerald light.

In a discussion with Wing, Cole explains that the diamonds are alluvial, and the two discuss the possible origin of the stones, with Cole arriving at the conclusion of an unknown location in Australia.

THE GEMOLOGIST’S TAKE:  Large marbles, alluvial, slippery, heavy, no moisture--all these are characteristic of diamonds.  Moving on, it would be hard to get a fine scratch with a rounded stone.  If he did achieve a scratch, it would be hard on the presumably expensive goblet.  So yes, she’s right about diamond scratching glass, but the test might not work as described. As for refraction, the reason diamonds are cut the way they are is to increase refraction and thereby maximize the brilliance of the stone, but the way diamond interacts with light is distinctive enough that my answer is yes, she got it right. 

The color.  Well.  Green diamonds are usually greyish or yellowish green.  I was prepared to state that natural green diamonds were never that intense a green.  However, according to the Gemological Institute of America, intense deep green color in a diamond is extremely rare, which makes it sound possible.  So my answer is...maybe.
As for determining a diamond’s source, yes.  Cole’s statements were somewhat generalized but correct.  With today’s sophisticated analytical techniques, it could be possible to be even more specific.

Skipping over a few hundred pages of diamond industry politics, action—and sexual attraction—we find Cole and Erin stranded in the Outback without water, food, transportation, or weaponry.  Fortunately, they’ve been left to die, so the latter is not an urgent problem.  At the time.

THE TEXT:  The rainy season begins, providing the water they so desperately need.  Once thirst is slaked, they notice that there is no run-off, which leads them to a cave.  It proves to be the entrance to the diamond ‘mine’, actually a cave.  They explore even though there is danger of flooding in the tunnels now that it’s raining.  Cole stops at a pothole in the rock of the tunnel floor and scoops out the pebbles that have collected there...and finds a diamond.  Further exploration leads them to ‘God’s Own Jewel Box’, a pothole filled with tins full of diamonds, diamonds her grandfather had collected.  Mission accomplished, but safety not yet achieved.  (The final thirty or so pages make for a suspenseful conclusion.)

DID SHE GET IT RIGHT?  Well, yeah.  I’d have to say that over-the-top as this part of the book is, the gemological and geological details are believable.  Diamonds would collect in potholes as rainy-season waters flooded through the tunnels and rooms of the cave, just as gold nuggets collect in above-ground streams. 

It’s a beautiful fantasy with a happy ending.  Enjoy!  I surely did, and it’s on my keeper shelf.