Sunday, February 4, 2007

Gwen's Gonna Kill Me

I adore Gwen. Gwen is all-around kick ass. She's like "the" expert on African American romances, and she's from the Midwest. When I discovered Chassie West's mysteries, she loaned me the earlier books (which have since been reprinted) so I could "catch up." She also graciously loaned me two historicals last year that I'm just now getting to. See, Gwen is a huge Beverly Jenkins fan. Just adores her books to pieces, and when she read my blog post on reading a Jenkins historical last year she volunteered to send me Topaz. Well Gwen, better late than never - I finally got around to reading it.

I'm not sure how to give a plot summary without making the heroine sound like a moron. Believe me, she is not too-stupid-to-live despite the following:

Katherine Love is a newspaperwoman on the hunt. Rupert Samuels may look like a respectable businessman, but the bastard is actually bilking blacks out of their savings. It's a really an ingenious scheme. It's 1884 and the U.S. isn't letting the Emancipation Proclamation stand in their way. Hello Jim Crow. Well Samuels is convincing blacks to invest in a "blacks only" railroad - which you have to admit would solve that pesky Jim Crow issue as far as traveling goes. Of course, there is no railroad in the works and Samuels is taking their money and giving them phony stock certificates in exchange.

Katherine gets close to Samuels. A bit too close because he actually proposes marriage! She reluctantly accepts, because by this time she has seen the printing plates for those phony stocks in his safe. All she needs is a safe cracker, then she'll disappear in the wind well before the planned wedding.

Except of course the plan backfires. Samuels catches her with her hand in the cookie jar and she's seriously screwed now. Enter our hero, Dixon Wildhorse, a Black Seminole Marshal out of Indian Territory. He's in Chicago to track down Bart Love, Katherine's worthless father. Seems the old guy decided to steal Dix's cattle and sell them to the U.S. government. This is a hanging offense, and desperate to not end up swinging from a tree - Bart says, "Hey! Marry my daughter! She'll settle my debt." Looking to settle down and have kids - Dixon agrees. But he has to rescue his bride first.

What I enjoyed most about this story were the characters. I really think this is the main area where Jenkins excels. Katherine is forthcoming, bright, stubborn, beautiful, with a touch of sass. Dix is bone-meltingly handsome and charming. He's the kind of guy who enters this marriage of convenience, sets about wooing his wife, and takes his time when it comes to s-e-x. Seriously, I'm not sure how Katherine held out so long. I would have been jumping his bones within 2 hours of meeting him. And that would be showing some restraint on my part.

What doesn't work so well is the plotting, which lacks urgency. I know that makes no sense but I'm not sure how to explain it. The plot description would make one think that Samuels provides the conflict, but he's only a minor cog here. There's a lot going on - including a wagon train traveling west, a Lysistrata-inspired storyline for the final one hundred pages, jealous women, and Bart Love's continued antics.

The writing itself is quite good. Jenkins does have a tendency to "info-dump" on the history stuff, but given the proliferation of wallpaper historicals these days it was almost a welcome breath of fresh air. I also enjoyed the very light touches of humor in the writing style. Naturally humor is subjective, but Jenkins makes it work because she doesn't beat the reader of the head with it. The love scenes are plentiful, but a touch on the purple side. Certainly not the worst I've read (not by a long shot!), but "manhood" rears it's ugly head (Tee Hee). Nothing out of the ordinary though for the historical genre as a whole.

Ultimately though, it's the characters I stuck around for - and moments like this one:
Then he asked, "Are you scared of marriage?"

Katherine was so glad for the change in subject that she replied truthfully. "I am afraid of turning my life over to a man, yes."


"Have you ever had your every move and breath controlled by someone else, Mr. Wildhorse?"

Dix though back on the bittersweet history of his people. "Yes, I have."

"Is it a situation you'd wish to relive?"


"My point is made."
Final Grade = B-. Jenkins packs this story with interesting secondary characters, and she's written books about many of them. While I often times felt the plot drifted, the characters really sell the show here.


Maria, Lover of All Things Romance said...

That was a good review, it's always the characters that keep me around. Even with a dynamite plot, I need good characters to keep me reading

sybil said...

You got this last year? I thought it just came out?

I was way surprised to see it in trade size. But I will the Avon is setting American historicals up to fail bit to kristie *g*.

Too bad you didn't post this a day earlier. Ah well.. back to the bookstore.

Wendy said...

The trade size is a reprint. It was originally released in 1997 - complete with "typical" Avon cover art. I really like the new cover on the trade size - although it doesn't exactly scream historical....

Kristie (J) said...

I've never tried Beverly Jenkins but what with this review and the great ones she's getting for her newest book, I really must give her a try. And isn't she pretty much the only Avon author still writing Westerns - if indeed she still is writing them? Still I think she has a pretty good backlist doesn't she?
And Sybil - you have inspired me!!

Wendy said...

I'm almost positive she's the only author left over at Avon still writing American settings. Someone feel free to correct me if I'm mistaken...

She had a historical out last year. I don't think it was a western, but it took place in New Orleans? Hey, I'll take it!