Friday, January 26, 2007

The Lawless Miss Hollis

How I love thee Harlequin Historicals! Let me count the ways - 1) westerns, 2) westerns, 3) westerns, 4) westerns....

You get the idea. And not just westerns, but good westerns. Trust me, I read some real stinkeroonies last year. I mean, you think with so few getting published that we'd get some quality - but oh no! Well, at least we still have Harlequin, bless their hearts. And to sweeten the deal, they happen to have very good authors writing westerns for them. Cheryl St. John being one.

Anyway, The Lawman's Bride is St. John's latest and is a February release. But now that you can order new Harlequin titles a month in advance on their web site, I got my copy last week.

Sophie Hollis is a gal running from her past. As a child, her westward bound family was attacked by a band of Sioux. Daddy and brothers killed, Mommy and her taken captive. Sophie is taken in by the chief, who dotes on her, while Mommy ends up with another brave. Mommy ends up dying in an epidemic, chief croaks, and Sophie is sold to a white man. She's 12 years old.

The white man in question, Tek Garrett, is a slick con artist who teaches Sophie everything he knows. He hires tutors, dresses her in finery, and soon she's part of the cons. She dreams of freedom. A normal life. But when she tries to escape (at age 14), Garrett decides the girl needs a firmer hand and he, well, he does things to her that no grown man should be doing with a 14-year-old.

Fast forward many years and Sophie gets another chance. She runs to Newton, Kansas where she lies through her pretty teeth and lands a job as a Harvey Girl. All she wants is to make enough money to start her own business, and working for Harvey is respectable and pays well. However circumstances arise and she soon catches the eye of the local Marshall, Clay Connor. Not cool. The last thing she wants is to draw attention to herself, so she avoids him for a stretch. But he's really persistent, stuff keeps happening, and dang he's really nice. I'm talking decent, hardworking, handsome - pretty much the opposite of every man that Sophie has ever known. This intrigues her, and she intrigues him. I mean, she's really different from the other girls that work at the Harvey House. Sophie seems so smart and independent, all those other girls seem so innocent and naive by comparison.

One thing leads to another, time is spent in each other's company. He likes her, she likes him and then the past shows up to screw up everything.

Sophie carries this book. Without her, it doesn't work. She's also the prototype of Wendy's Perfect Heroine. She wants her independence. She wants to control her own destiny. She wants to run the show, and while that might sound lonely to some, Sophie can't see herself handing her life over to a man. Not when the male gender hasn't exactly endeared itself to her. She's not frosty though. She doesn't walk around with a stick up her butt. And she never, ever plays the victim. When she meets Clay, she genuinely likes the guy. He's damn near perfect. The perfect Beta hero. Dreamy sigh.

The plot is fairly conventional, and while some might bristle at a less than honest heroine (OK, so she lies a lot), she does what she does out of necessity (she is a fugitive after all). And when her past finds her, she doesn't rely on Clay to rescue her (although he does play a healthy role). Our girl sets her own plan in motion. She pretty much half-rescues herself.

So why isn't this a keeper? I'm picky. That simple. For me, keepers have to have an "A-Ha!" moment to them. They need to knock the wind out of me. It's all very vague and I can't describe it - but essentially it needs to emotionally wallop me. This was very, very good and I have no doubt it will land on keeper shelves for other readers - but I'm picky. Final Grade = B+.

Another word of note, which is treading into spoiler territory. I bet St. John gets a lot of angry e-mails on this one. Why? Not because the heroine lies or is victimized - but because of the dead dog. Seriously. I've discovered you can write your books in blood and have villains eat human babies, but kill an animal and readers start frothing at the mouth. People have explained this phenomena to me in intelligent ways, but I suspect it's one reader foible I'll never "get."

The hero has an old hound dog who is knocking on death's door. He can barely walk, is blind and can't hear. I mean, the poor thing is sad as hell. But the hero just doesn't have the heart to shoot him (which is how these things were handled back in the day). He eventually realizes that something has to be done, and takes the dog to the town doctor (incidentally the hero from The Doctor's Wife) and he gives the dog an injection. Dog goes to sleep, doesn't wake up. Now, my parents grew up in farm country. This is what you do. A pet gets too sick and old - you euthanize it. Simple as that. But many people (and I mean many) feel this sort of thing is inhumane and barbaric - so I'm wondering how many angry letters St. John is going to get.

You will tell us, won't you Cheryl?


sybil said...

I want! Harlequin is suppose to be sending it! Damn it!


There was a mess up on my order (long story) and the ONE book I wanted really really badly was a no show.

I loved The Doctor's Wife too. I am really glad you liked it since you are my evol western reader twin. Oh wait I am the evol one. Whatever... because the plot didn't sound like all that and a bag of chips.

The it was St. John so I had faith.

Tara Marie said...

I have this on preorder from B&N, I'm glad I ordered it.

Kristie (J) said...

I've been waiting for this one for a while too. I didn't know you could order them early from Harlequin. I think I have every book St. John has written - even the very early ones like Rain Shadow from 1994.

Wendy said...

I still have The Doctor's Wife in the TBR. I seriously need to go on an HH reading bender.

Kristie: Yeah, you can now order all Harlequin/Silhouette titles a month ahead of time at I usually wait for a few months to pass then do one big HH order since you can also find backlist titles there....

ReneeW said...

Yay, I have this one on the way to me. Loved The Doctor's Wife, you must get it out of your TBR. It was a keeper for me.

Cheryl St.John said...

Wendy, I will let you know when the hate mail starts pouring in. LOL Oddly enough my first "fan" letter was from a reader who said, "I have one small criticism on your otherwise very good story --

"How, in the 21st century could you have portrayed Sophie SMOKING cigars? Were you trying to show a whimsical side to your story? Do you believe smoking is NOT a health hazard? Huh?

"Well that is your privelege, certainly."

Apparently she has no problem with dead dogs. As you will recall I also killed a child in a recent book (Prairie Wife) which is another no no.

Wendy, could I get you to write my synopsis' for me? "Daddy and brothers killed, Mommy and her taken captive. Sophie is taken in by the chief who dotes on her, while Mommy ends up with another brave. Mommy ends up dying in an epidemic, chief croaks, and Sophie is sold to a white man." Cut to the chase. This is what happened. You always always make me laugh.

Thank for for appreciating the realism of the time period.

I had so much fun writing this story that I just let it rip and let Sophie be who she wanted to be. She had a mind of her own. I'll keep you posted on feedback.


Wendy said...

LOL - a conclusive link to smoking and cancer wasn't made until well-into the 20th century. One of my favorite mystery series takes place during WWII, and all the characters smoke like chimneys. Why? Nobody knew yet that it could kill them!

I actually liked the cigar smoking. Subtle character development. It was a way to hammer home that the heroine was "unconventional" and her upbringing was not terribly "normal." So it would make sense that she wouldn't act like a typical lady.....

And yes Renee, I need to get The Doctor's Wife out of the TBR. As soon as I have the time, I need to go on another HH reading bender....

Cheryl St.John said...

Ina reply to an OLD OLD blog, I am answering your question: I did not get a single letter about the dog.

Nada. Zip. Zero.

Wendy said...

You are replying to an OLD blog post Cheryl!

I can't believe you didn't get any e-mails about the dog. Maybe because he had already lived a full, rich doggie life and didn't die prematurely?

I know a mystery author who told me that she got a lot of angry e-mails when she had a guard dog in one of her books die "in the line of duty" protecting one of the characters. Maybe it's just cozy mystery fans who get twitchy over "dead dog" plot developments?