A Man With a Past
Mary Connealy is known for books filled with cowboys and humor. The synopsis for A Man With a Past promised the story of a man who had lost his memory, and I’m all about a good amnesia story. However, the beginning lags because the memory loss happens much later in the story than readers might expect from the trope. Nonetheless, the tale is a good one, and as book two of the author’s Brothers in Arms trilogy, A Man With a Past tells the tale of the second of three brothers who unexpectedly find themselves co-owners of a ranch in Wyoming. I had not read the first book, but I had no trouble following this instalment or its characters. However, now I’ve discovered how interwoven in time all three books are, I would strongly recommend starting from the beginning of the trilogy to truly enjoy the author’s layered storytelling.
After learning that he has inherited a portion of the Rolling Hills Ranch in Wyoming, Falcon Hunt leaves his home in the Tennessee mountains and heads west. By the time he reaches Independence, Missouri, he realizes that two men are following him, probably with stealing or killing in mind. Falcon uses every skill honed in the mountains to outsmart them, tie them up, and then continues on his way. He finishes the journey to Wyoming, where he meets his brother Kevin – who has traveled from Kansas – and his youngest brother Wyatt who has worked the ranch since he was a boy. To say that Wyatt and his older half-sister Cheyenne resent the men who have come “to steal their ranch” is an understatement, and they give Falcon a decidedly frosty reception. Given the tension in the house, Falcon takes refuge in the wooded hills surrounding the ranch. Maybe a few days in familiar terrain, living off the land and thinking, will help him decide what to do with his inheritance and fractious family.
The ranch was established by Cheyenne Brewster’s father, and as far as she’s concerned, her snake of a stepfather had no business passing the ranch out of her family. She can’t stand the sight of the new owners of her ranch, and as her temper spews over everyone in sight, Cheyenne realizes she needs to cool down or her rage may do some permanent, unwanted damage. Whenever she needed to work off her anger at her stepfather, Cheyenne often headed to the hills, so she goes there now for a few days of contemplation. As she hikes, her rage burns out, and she picks up the trail of a man. Always on the lookout for trouble, Cheyenne starts tracking him, only to realize after a day that he is also tracking her. When their paths physically cross, she recognizes Falcon, but he admits he awoke, lodged in the crook of a tree over a rushing stream, injured but without his memory.
Cheyenne and Falcon return to the ranch to a growing mystery. What actually happened to Falcon? Who is trying to murder the brothers? What do the attackers hope to gain? Who is ultimately behind the cattle rustling, shootings and danger surrounding the ranch and its residents? As the mystery unfolds, Cheyenne and Falcon show off their impressive survival and tracking skills and their ease in working with each other. Love blossoms in unexpected places. Secrets are uncovered.
The mystery plot driving the characters is straightforward, and the obstacles keeping the lovers apart come mostly from external sources – Falcon not knowing his past, Cheyenne determined not to accept any man who has come to “steal” her ranch. This, plus the touches of humor, give the book a light-hearted feeling. The writing is smooth, and the story is told firmly from each character’s perspective so that the reader feels each scene as that character does. The dialogue is brisk and holds just enough dialect to provide an authentic sound of the US Civil War era’s western and eastern mountain speech patterns.
God is mentioned sparingly and prayed to as guide, Savior and Lord in language many traditional Christians will recognize. I was intrigued by the family discussion of the commandment to “Honour thy father and thy mother…” In the context of the fathering the grown children have experienced, they admit that they might not be able to follow this commandment. I have struggled with this dilemma in my life, and the family’s solution is satisfying and faith-full.
As I mentioned earlier, the book gets off to a slow start, which I think was due to the delay in the start of the amnesia plotline. Part of the trope’s appeal is that readers discover the victim’s past at the same time he does, and while I suspect sharing Falcon’s background up-front may help the series flow, it breaks trope norms and dilutes the reader’s pleasure. This is another reason to start with the first book in the series. Nonetheless, I can recommend A Man With a Past as a smooth, light read, full of emotion and family dynamics, humor and surprises.