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.
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.
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