Sean, the fifth in Greenwood’s Cowboys series, takes place in the Colorado gold fields in 1876. While the main characters are alluring and the story is entertaining, unvarying dialogue, quicksilver character- mood changes and underdeveloped secondary characters detract from an otherwise enjoyable read.
The story opens with two glimpses into the past. Nine year- old Sean O’Ryan, resident of an orphanage in San Antonio, Texas, is inspected by his aunt who is apparently his only living relative. Kathleen Kelly is a saloon dancer. She couldn’t be bothered with Sean as an infant when his parents had died, and she decides she still cannot be bothered with him now that he is nine. Rejected, Sean remains in the orphanage.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Missouri, fourteen year-old Agnes Satterwaite is being slapped around by her father for associating with Rock Gregson, a slick riverboat gambler. Insisting that Rock is going to marry her, she runs off and her father forbids her to ever return home again.
Now it is fifteen years later. Sean and Pete, who were both adopted as boys by Jake and Isabelle of Jake, the first book in the series, are now working the Colorado gold fields to make their fortunes. Sean dreams of owning a ranch like Jake’s and finding a wife like Isabelle. Bitterness over his aunt’s rejection of him when he was a child has soured him on that kind of woman, so things are off to a prickly start when he meets Pearl Belladonna, who is, of course, Agnes all grown up. Pearl owns the best saloon in town and is adored by all the men, at least as much as that kind of woman can be.
Pearl also has her bitter memories. She left Rock six months after running off with him when she realized he’d never keep his promise to marry her. With her reputation ruined, she’s determined to make enough money running her own saloon to eventually retire, move far away, and live out her old age in respectability. She is now doing just that, but there are more secrets from her past that complicate matters and present a barrier to future happiness.
This book has definite strengths. Six-foot-six, red-haired Sean is appealing once the reader gets past his bitter and judgmental attitudes about women. His strength, honesty, and cleverness make him an admirable match for the beautiful Pearl with her proverbial heart-of-gold. Their internal conflicts rooted in their pasts are believable, and the slimy yet charming Rock provides plenty of external conflict to keep the story going when the internal conflict begins to wear thin. The story itself is imaginative, not completely predictable, and nicely paced. Greenwood has heightened sensuality in this book, and Pearl and Sean’s big love scene is enticing.
The book also has weaknesses. The main irritation is the unceasingly argumentative dialogue. Every character in the book seems to speak in the same voice, and no one can say anything without being contradicted by someone. After a few chapters my nerves felt about the same as when I spend the day listening to my children go at it. Repetition is another problem. Much of the dialogue may be true to “real life,” but when printed on the page it seems like most conversations are going on too long. There is so little meaningful or non-combative dialogue between Pearl and Sean that I wondered why they continued to want each other.
Also problematic are the constant mood swings experienced by both main characters. One moment they are willing to recognize good in each other, and the next – for no apparent reason – they are writing the relationship off. There are several instances where Pearl considers cruelly rejecting Sean without explanation because she thinks it’s kinder than telling him the truth, which doesn’t quite mesh with her otherwise kind and honest personality.
And, most of the secondary characters seemed rather flat and one-dimensional. They serve little purpose other than to constantly nag Pearl and Sean and butt in on their business. Pete, Sean’s partner, starts out singing Pearl’s praises, including “she’s different from all the rest,” but then spends the rest of the book trying to convince Sean she can’t be trusted because she’s that kind of woman. Sean’s aunt Kathleen reappears in his life, and is similarly annoying. Rock is the best of the bunch with his strange mix of charm and evil, until he suddenly loses all charm and becomes consumed with hatred and greed. A little more development of the motivations of all the secondary characters would have lent a great deal more depth and emotion to this story.
Despite these drawbacks, Sean provides an interesting story line and two main characters that the reader can like and want to see together. Not the best, but not bad reading, either.