The back cover blurb for Linda O’Brien’s latest tells of a cynical Pinkerton hero who’s redeemed by love, a delightful, optimistic heroine, page-turning suspense and a cross-country trip. All factual (except for that page turning one and the delightful bit), but sadly the sum of the parts doesn’t make for a very engrossing whole.
I’m not the world’s biggest stickler for historical accuracy, but even I can be occasionally frustrated by plots that just don’t seem possible given the setting. This book at the turn of the 20th century; it’s unlikely it would be all right for an unwed young woman from a good family to take a cross country trip with a man she’s just met.
Eliza Howe has received a telegram from her childhood friend, Eileen. Eileen is married to Francis Caroni who’s supposedly been wrongly accused of a crime in Wyoming. The couple needs a thousand dollars from Eliza so they can escape to Mexico. Eliza’s aunt is the one who’ll provide the money, but she believes that Eliza can’t travel from Chicago to Wyoming without a “proper escort” and insists that Eliza be accompanied by Pinkerton agent Case Brogan.
Within a few chapters these unbelievable characters were saddled with implausible behaviors. Eliza, who wants to be an opera singer and bursts into song at the drop of a hat, is convinced, all evidence to the contrary, that Caroni is wrongly accused. Neither she nor her aunt seems to find anything odd about her unchaperoned trip with a stranger. And as for that thousand dollars, that was a fortune in 1898! No matter how many facts are placed before her she maintains that incurable, and irritating, optimism mentioned on the back cover.
Case, who at least has a legitimate reason for his cynicism and coldness as regards Caroni, also suffers from arrested development. At one point early on, Eliza attempts to kiss Case; he tells her she’s like most women, “sly and conniving.” A hero who distrusts all women because one did him wrong is nothing new, but Case was never wronged in any way that the reader knows. His behavior is simply there to create some conflict, whether or not it fits what the reader has been told.
If you can get past the unbelievable stuff, you’ll find some enjoyment in the relationship that develops between Case and Eliza. Eliza verges on TSTL for much of the book but when she does finally begin to figure things out she becomes a heroine the reader can almost root for. Case has less of a distance to travel in becoming a somewhat compelling hero and therefore makes the transition a little sooner.
Their slow building relationship isn’t enough to overcome the problems with the story. The fact remains these two could more easily be believed if the setting was present day rather than the 1890s. If you want to read this type of story, why not just pick up a contemporary romance?
|Review Date:||November 3, 2001|