Behind His Blues Eyes
I have read all of Kaki Warner’s books to date and have enjoyed all of them. In Behind His Blue Eyes she has given readers another solid book to enjoy, but it does not quite live up to some of her earlier attempts. I do not want to give any Warner fans reasons not to buy this book. It is definitely worth every dime you would spend on it. However, I think that this book suffers slightly from her previous success in that her bar was a little high, but while the author may have nicked it with her heel on the way over she somehow managed to keep the bar from falling off.
Audra Pearsall is in trouble when this book opens. Her father is a renowned historian who has been suffering from dementia for quite some time. In order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, Audra has taken over writing her father’s historical papers and publishing them under his name. When the Baltimore Society of Learned Historians is on the verge of discovering her deception, Audra decides it is time for her family (consisting of herself, her father and two servants) to get out of town – quickly. A letter informing her father of a legacy in Heartbreak Creek, Colorado could not have come at a more convenient time.
Ethan Hardesty is also on his way to Heartbreak Creek, for a similar reason as the Pearsall family. He is employed by the railroad that has plans to bring the rails through the town, but he is also escaping from his past. Ethan is a trained architect, but a disaster with one of his projects in California left him guilt ridden and questioning his talent and judgment. He meets Audra when her train pulls in to the Boot Creek Depot and finds himself running in to her again on the way to Heartbreak Creek. When they discover that they will both be in Heartbreak Creek together, a friendship begins to form along with the underlying physical attraction they feel for one another.
When Ethan and Audra finally arrive in Heartbreak Creek, they meet most of the characters from previous books in this series and quickly become enmeshed in the growing town. They also learn that the land that Audra’s father inherited is land that the railroad needs for a right of way in order for the line to make it to the town. This puts a little bit of strain on Audra and Ethan’s newly emerging friendship since it is Ethan’s job to acquire that right of way and Audra is afraid that a track so close to their new home will be too dangerous for her wandering and confused father. She asks for time to consider the railroad’s offer. Then vandalism begins to occur, and Audra begins to wonder if Ethan is more interested in her land than he is in her personally.
There was nothing really wrong with this book. It just lacked that something special to make it a truly great book. If anything, I think this book suffered from series overload. At times I felt I could have just as easily been in a contemporary town such as Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold or Christie Ridgway’s Crescent Cove. Too many series seem to suffer from a case of Nirvana when it comes to depicting the locations of these small towns and I felt that Heartbreak Creek threatens to fall into that unrealistic trope in Behind His Blue Eyes. A reader sort of expects these towns to exist in contemporaries even if we complain about them, but I thought it was too jarring and really unrealistic in a historical, especially in a western. The Old West was dangerous and to give Warner credit, she did inject danger into the story and had some more realistic depictions of the plight of Chinese railroad workers, but it felt almost contrived when placed against the core residents of Heartbreak Creek.
I did like both Ethan and Audra and I felt that Warner brought their relationship along in a realistic way, however I liked Audra a bit more than I did Ethan. He was a good man with a heavy burden from his past, but some of the depictions of his torment seemed just a tad gratuitous to me and I did not warm up to him quite as much as I did Audra. She was feisty, brave and smart and Kaki Warner did a very good job of showing us the character of Audra rather than just telling us who she was. There was just a tad too much telling of Ethan’s character and that made him less organic than Audra for me.
Reading is so personal and each reader has intangibles that can make or break a book. I love Kaki Warner as a writer and think she is one of the most talented romance writers to come along in the past few years. My expectations tend to be a little higher for those authors I know have the capacity to knock my socks off. I believe I expected just a bit more from this book than Warner delivered, but that does not mean this was not another winner. Readers who have never read another Warner book might rate this book higher than I did (and it is not necessary to read the other books in the series to enjoy this one). I believe that if she had developed Ethan just a little bit more, this book could have soared up toward DIK status.