Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TBR Challenge 2013: True Love At The End Of A Gun Barrel

The Book: The Drifter by Susan Wiggs

The Particulars:  American-set historical romance, 1998, Mira, currently out of print, but reprint scheduled for September 24, 2013 Available digitally.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  At one point I glommed all of Susan Wiggs' historical romances.  Given that her backlist was fairly healthy at that time (the early aughts), I've still got several of her books lying around in the TBR.

The Review:  Past reactions to the Wiggs' historicals that I have read have ranged from Meh, It Was OK to OMG I Want To Have This Books' Babies!  While I'm not ready to take the Gone Fishin' sign off my ovaries, The Drifter is one of the really good ones.  As evidence by the fact that I stayed up until 1:00AM (when I had to work the next day) to plow through the second half of this story.

Now that her father is dead, Dr. Leah Mundy is the only doctor on tiny Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington state.  She's a good doctor, intelligent, no-nonsense, firmly believing in the creed of first-do-no-harm.  And while some of the townsfolk like to remind her that she has boobs and shouldn't being meddling around in medicine (hardly women's work!), she doesn't have a shortage of patients.  She also takes in borders at the large home that also doubles as her medical practice.  It's a quiet life, a lonely life - for Leah has no idea how to relate to others, having spent a lifetime trying to please a father who could not be pleased.  Then into her world comes Jackson Underhill, a man on the run from a law and now standing in her bedroom holding a gun on her.

Jackson has to kidnap Leah because his "wife", Carrie is very ill.  However it's his bad luck that Leah is not the sort of female to go along quietly, or willingly.  She agrees to look after Carrie, but she's not about to sail off in Jackson's leaky, decrepit boat - so she does what any resourceful female would do - she sabotages it.  Now, while Carrie is lying ill in one of Leah's guestrooms, Jackson finds himself stuck on the island in the home of a pretty lady doctor who has a way of getting under his skin.

When she's firing on all cylinders Wiggs has a way with creating interesting, sympathetic characters with intriguing personal baggage.  As readers, and knowing this is a romance novel, it's not much of a stretch to deduce that Carrie and Jackson aren't really married.  But they are bound together thanks to being raised in the same squalid Chicago orphanage.  Carrie has the kind of ethereal, delicate beauty that captivates men, and Jackson, having no experience with love or such beauty, becomes her protector from a very early age.  It's all he knows.  Protect Carrie, she needs protecting.  Her life eventually takes a more sordid turn when she's "adopted" by a pimp - but Jackson does eventually find her, rescue her, which means hightailing it out of Texas thanks to a dead body in Carrie's place of employment.  I'm convinced Jackson does not love Carrie so much as she's a symbol of all he's never had in his life.  He might think he loves her, but really what our boy has is a White Knight Complex.

Leah is a classic workaholic with vulnerability issues.  Her father, besides being a distant, uncaring asshole - was also not a good doctor.  Essentially he was a quack, and as a child Leah found herself hopscotching from one town to the next until finally they permanently landed on the island.  She's smart and a good doctor, but she doesn't have the easiest time of soft-peddling around people.  She's brusque, efficient, and never quite mastered the technique of "catching more flies with honey."  I also loved the historical tidbits Wiggs included about Leah's profession, and that she had our heroine do research (most notably, on addiction) when she was stymied by a diagnosis she wasn't all that knowledgeable about.

This is a good, solid read, but not without issues.  Carrie is the biggest fly in the ointment, insomuch as how her existence effects Jackson.  I was fine with Carrie herself as a character, but Jackson, after years of protecting her and feeling obligated to her (for whatever reason) - seems to dump those notions fairly quickly and easily towards the climactic finish.  I also felt like some of the secondary characters could have been disregarded entirely (most of Leah's borders) and the story would have been better served if the author had instead focused more attention on the lawman chasing after Jackson and the young medical student back east that Leah corresponds with.

But quibbles aside, I still really enjoyed this story and it's well worth a look (I think) for folks who like their historical romances with some American flavor.  It was a quick, delicious read I inhaled in two sittings.  Time well spent.

Final Grade = B


Lynn Spencer said...

Ah, good memories! I remember reading this book when I was in school. Wiggs is one of those authors that I really keep hoping will write historicals again.

Phyl said...

This sounds very good. I made a note to look for it next fall.

azteclady said...

Whatever else happens in my life, I'll forever appreciate having read "While I'm not ready to take the Gone Fishin' sign off my ovaries"

(The book sounds good too, by the by)

Hilcia said...

Oooh, a good one to add to my future Wiggs TBB list, Wendy! I'm still looking for good recs from her historical backlist.

And, what is with men, the "white knight complex" and those "delicate" beauties? To me delicate always implies sickly (not refined).

Wendy said...

Lynn: This was an easy theme month for me - between Susan Wiggs, Pamela Morsi, and Maggie Osborne, I could have gone crazy on Americana :) Wiggs won in the end though - mostly because it's been a while since I've read one of her books.

Phyl: The last reprint edition saw the release of a digital copy. But yeah, for a paper copy that isn't used - September :)

AL: LOL! Well, not with this book. Wiggs has a couple of other historicals though that did see the removal of the ovary barrier.....

Hils: I would recommend her Chicago Fire trilogy (fair warning though, the second book I found "ho-hum" but LOVED The Hostage and The Firebrand). Pretty sure you've already read The Charm School and The Horsemaster's Daughter? I also liked The Lightkeeper (also getting reprinted soon), but be warned the plot hinges on a seriously major coincidence.

Kathryn T said...

I enjoyed this awhile back when I read it. Being a reader that prefers contemporary I love the ones she writes, and have just enjoyed The Apple Orchard.

Your review makes me want to haul out The Drifter and reread it sometime though.

nath said...

I enjoyed Ms Wiggs books, but usually stuck with her contemporary romance ones as that is what I like to read. I'll need to check this one out because it does sound pretty good. Also, if anyone cannot wait for it, I'm pretty sure the UBS would have some copies :)

Wendy said...

Kathryn: And I'm currently debating if I want to keep my copy. Still waffling if it passed my "I want to reread it one of these days...." test.

Nath: It should be fairly easy to find used, since it has been reprinted before. I had a 1998 edition buried in my TBR, complete with pages starting to yellow.