A Wanted Man
When I saw the cover of Rebecca Hagan Lee’s A Wanted Man, I have to admit that I expected a gunslinger romance of some sort. The title and cover just do not match the tale of boomtown San Franscisco that I encountered instead. While it has its moments and I found the background fascinating, I have to admit that the plotting in this book does not entirely satisfy.
Right away readers will know they have a tortured hero on their hands. Will Keegan fell in love with his best friend’s wife and haunted by dreams of her, he has fled from the offices where he works with his friend in order to head up a special project in San Francisco. Will settles in, running a saloon and getting plugged in with the local business scene both legitimate and otherwise. He has a stable existence of sorts until one Julia Jane Parham shows up on his doorstep.
Julia is a somewhat improbable but oddly intriguing heroine. Raised in Hong Kong, she has come to California searching for a friend who appears to have been sold into slavery in Chinatown. To gain entry to that world, she joins a missionary group and as such, finds herself with the freedom to tromp around San Francisco in her missionary uniform. In the guise of a crusader, she enters Will’s saloon to try to find out if her friend may be among the women usually found sequestered upstairs in such establishments. Instead she finds herself striking an unlikely deal with Will.
This could have been the end of things were it not for the dealings in Chinatown that keep the two leads’ paths crossing. In many books, their meetings would have felt contrived, but Lee manages to make them feel somewhat natural. In the beginning, there isn’t much building by way of romance, but the intrigues of Chinatown and the glimpse into its human trafficking underworld provide interesting, if sometimes heartbreaking, reading.
While the adventure plot builds rather quickly, the romance definitely takes a backseat to the action. There’s plenty of mutual yearning and attraction, combined with Will’s surprise at himself for being attracted to missionary Julia. However, things between these two just don’t really come together until quite late in the book, and the romance ends up feeling somewhat like an afterthought.
In addition to the pacing, my problems with the lead characters didn’t help matters much. I could buy Will falling in love with the woman he and his best friend both fell for as very young men. However, his obsession and constant dreaming about both of his best friend’s great loves just didn’t fit. And then there’s Julia. From the resolute missionary to the scheming woman trying to find her friend, I did admire her spirit at times, but I always felt like she was playing a role and I wondered who the real Julia was. That some of her adventures in Chinatown strain credulity probably didn’t help here.
A Wanted Man isn’t a bad book by any means. In terms of style, the writing here is strong and the historical backdrop will fascinate more than a few readers. However, the improbable characters and their lukewarm love story make this a disappointingly ordinary read for romance fans.