Desert Isle Keeper
A Touch of Flame
A Touch of Flame is the kind of book you want to disappear into. A strong-and-silent-type sheriff meets a clever, independent doctor, and sparks fly. Set in a lively town with well-developed supporting characters, this story has Ms. Goodman’s trademark mix of emotion and humor; I was more than happy to forget the world for a while as I got sucked into it.
Ben Madison is the recently appointed sheriff of Frost Falls, Colorado, and as such it’s his responsibility to meet the new town doctor who is coming in by train. Readers of A Touch of Frost may recognize Ben from it, and while the characters of that book do make appearances here, A Touch of Flame definitely stands on its own. Since we last saw him, Ben has built a new and different life, first as a deputy and more recently as the town sheriff. He’s good at his job, keeping tabs on the locals and pitching in to help people when he can. Ben is also careful not to spread gossip unnecessarily, which is why he’s the only one aware that Dr. E. Ridley Woodhouse is due on the train.
Dr. E. Ridley Woodhouse, who prefers to be called Ridley (the ‘E’ stands for Exactly-none-of-your-affair), is a lady doctor born and raised in the Boston area. She’s strong-willed and independent – a product of both her own personality and working in a male-dominated field – and she’s determined to do well by the citizens of Frost Falls. After overcoming the small hiccup of mistaken identity, the two form a partnership of sorts. Ben introduces Ridley around town, helping everyone feel comfortable around her and giving her access to the people who most need help.
In this case, the family most in need of help is also the one most resistant to it. Or rather, Jeremiah Salt is resistant to anyone interfering with his wife and children. It’s never easy to read about an abusive husband/father, but Ms. Goodman makes it especially difficult as she conveys Ridley and Ben’s feelings of impotency in the face of that abuse. They’re keenly aware of what’s going on, desperate to help, yet cautious and frustrated by the knowledge that if they push too far, Jeremiah could snap and hurt his family even further.
Ms. Goodman’s writing really shines in Ridley and Ben’s budding romance, which is depicted as a natural extension of their teamwork. The spark that exists between them from the start flourishes, and the story itself gets richer as the two lean on each other.
Ben’s story is something readers of A Touch of Frost will already know a little about. He grew up on the Twin Star Ranch, where his mother was a housekeeper, and Thaddeus Frost was effectively his father. Their happy-enough family of four (including Thaddeus’ son, Remington) was pulled apart when Thaddeus married, and Ben’s mother took some unwise action against the newcomer. Ben has definitely come out of the incident older and wiser, but there are still some awkward family dynamics to manage as this book begins. Getting his perspective as he talks things over with Ridley allows some better insight into his character, which I loved.
Ridley, too, reveals herself through her interactions with Ben. I was particularly drawn in by her ability to empathize with the Salt family, which she explains is due to her own volatile mother. Although she’s not in any way ‘broken’ or in need of ‘fixing’ by Ben’s love, Ridley does make it clear that growing up with her mother had a profound impact on her life. It’s one more piece that makes Ridley a well-rounded character – not perfect, not broken, just a woman who has known struggles and persevered despite them.
Any problems I had with this book were extremely minor compared to how much I enjoyed it, so A Touch of Flame has definitively earned itself a place on my DIK shelf. It’s a wonderful story to escape in for a few hours – heart-wrenching, uplifting, and humorous all at once.