Lady Jasmine

By Victoria Christopher Murray

Touchtone. 400 pp. $15 (paperback)

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Reviewed by Karen Quiñones Miller

Well, she finally did it.

Jasmine Cox Larson Bush is finally first lady of City of Lights of Riverside Church in Harlem, a position she has coveted since marrying Hosea Bush, son of the church's founding pastor.

The position may be only temporary - just until her father-in-law recovers from a gunshot wound received in a drive-by shooting - but Jasmine intends to make the most of her time as first lady.

But then she gets an anonymous note: Get your husband to step down from the pulpit, or else everyone will know what you did in the summer of 1983.

For those who've read Victoria Christopher Murray's earlier books about nefarious but lovable Jasmine - Temptation, A Sin and a Shame, and Too Little Too Late - you know that Jasmine has a bit of trouble telling the truth.

For instance, she conveniently forgot to tell hubby that she carried on an adulterous affair before their marriage with her best friend's husband. Or that she had been married before. Or her true age. Or even her real shoe size.

Lying comes easily to Jasmine, but somehow her lies always seem to come to the surface. Even the most damaging of all - that while Hosea was courting her, she became embroiled in an affair with a married man and passed off his child as Hosea's.

Somehow, she's managed to maintain her marriage, thanks largely to her husband's seemingly unending ability to forgive and forget. Unfortunately, her lies have been revealed not only to her husband but also to the church members. And the one thing that the good members of City of Lights enjoy almost as much as praising the Lord is gossiping about Jasmine and her exploits.

Jasmine is sure it's one of those members who has sent her the anonymous note threatening to reveal her exploits of the summer of '83.

But which one? Pastor Wyatt, who's upset that her husband was promoted to interim head pastor over him? Sister Whittington, who's never forgiven her for trying to seduce the Rev. Bush before switching her attention to Hosea? Ivy, a childhood friend of Hosea's who is back on the scene and has made it clear she wants him for herself? Or Jerome Viceroy, a city councilman who wants to purchase part of the church's property?

Jasmine has to find out, because this is the one secret she knows can never be forgiven. And what the blackmailer doesn't count on is coming across a woman who is a master at playing games and ruining those played by others.

Jasmine doesn't disappoint, though as she goes about rooting out the various secrets and scandals of the people she suspects of being the blackmailer, she finds herself not only unraveling their pasts but also coming close to inadvertently revealing her own.

And all this while trying to support her husband, who is struggling to maintain his place in the pulpit against well-intentioned church members who think he's not ready to step into his father's shoes.

Murray, an Essence best-selling author, does a wonderful job of weaving a plot full of twists and turns that will leave the reader both rooting for Jasmine and hoping she finally gets her comeuppance.

There's something about Jasmine that anyone in a relationship can relate to. No matter how honest we are with our mates, there are some things that we simply believe are better left unmentioned, whether it's weight, dress size, or past relationships. It's just that Jasmine's secrets are so scandalous, and so many!

It should be said that for all her evil ways, Jasmine has a relentless faith in God, promising that if God will get her out of this mess, she'll never tell a lie or hide another secret. Of course, she's made this promise before, but we want to believe Jasmine because it's so evident that she honestly believes herself.

Lady Jasmine is without doubt a page-turner. Its one real flaw is that the climax is just not as climactic as the reader might hope. Still, the journey is not only worth taking, it shouldn't be missed.

Karen E. Quinoñes-Miller is the author of six novels, most recently "Passin.' "