Desert Isle Keeper
Blind Tiger is a classic Sandra Brown romantic suspense story and if you are a fan of this author or that genre at all, you will definitely want to pick it up.
The Great War is over but almost two years after armistice, Thatcher Hutton is still finding his way home. Lack of money and no job means he’s been playing cards to get cash for meals and hitching rides on freight trains to reach the ranch where he worked as a cowboy before he was drafted. His most recent stint of riding the rails finds him in a freight car full of angry men planning to attack the moment he falls asleep, so he escapes the only way he can – by jumping from the rapidly moving locomotive. He gets away relatively unscathed, but he wasn’t able to choose his location and finds himself stuck in the middle of nowhere Texas, walking miles just to reach a domicile. It’s not much, just a lean-to with an outhouse a few feet away but he figures the people there can help. He stops to ask for a drink and directions to the nearest town. The woman hanging the washing on the line is cool and anxious to have him gone but she points him toward a nearby small burg, lets him drink from their bucket of fresh water – and gives him a memory to carry on the road. He can’t recall ever seeing a sight as pretty as that lovely lady struggling to hang waterlogged sheets on a windy day.
Laurel Palmer is still shell-shocked from all the tragedy that has befallen her in the months since the war ended. Her father-in-law Irv has taken her in but as an invalided former railroad worker, he doesn’t have much in savings and the two of them can barely make ends meet. They’re living in a shack miles away from town and the stranger arriving at their door looking for aid reminds Laurel of just how vulnerable they are. He was handsome and polite, but strong and quick. Irv had been nervous enough to grab his shotgun and Laurel had been nervous enough to realize she needed to start bringing in some money so she and Irv can move closer to town.
The tiny town of Foley doesn’t have much in the way of industry, but there is a livery stable, and Thatcher demonstrates sufficient skills with the horses that the owner agrees to give him a job for a few weeks. That should enable him to earn enough to buy a train ticket home. With the employment question settled, Thatcher needs to locate a place to live and responds to a sign in the grocer’s window offering a room to rent. When he arrives at the address given, the beautiful pregnant lady at the well-kept, spacious house advises him the sign should have been taken down, since the room being offered is now a nursery. She gives him shortbread to sweeten the sting of rejection and sends him to a far more dour facility on the less affluent side of town. Thatcher doesn’t know it, but the brief encounter is about to change his whole life because that gentle gal goes missing that night.
Thatcher, the only stranger in town, is suspected of abducting and killing her. At least he is by the nosy neighbor who saw him at the house and the overly interested mayor who responds to said neighbor’s interference by pressuring the sheriff to arrest Thatcher. Fortunately, Sheriff Bill Amos is a smart man and quickly figures out Thatcher wasn’t involved. Bill just as quickly realizes that Thatcher is handy with a gun, quick on his feet and even faster at spotting a lie. Which makes Thatcher the perfect choice to help him discover who did take the missing lady.
Just as Thatcher is getting on the right side of the local law, Laurel, driven to desperation by her need for funds, finds herself on the wrong side of the new prohibition regulations. There aren’t many jobs available and certainly nothing that pays very well in a place as small as Foley. She’s got a good head for business, though, and Irv’s friend Ernie has a moonshine whiskey recipe that tastes better than anything available from a distillery. It’s not long before Laurel, Irv and Ernie are running a thriving – if illegal -business of their own. Unbeknownst to them, however, they’ve started their little production just as a local man has begun machinations to take over the entire territory. He’s a cutthroat competitor whose business plan is to brutally eliminate the competition. As the book’s description says, when
violence erupts, Laurel and—now deputy—Thatcher find themselves on opposite sides of a moonshine war, where blood flows as freely as the bootleg.
Word of warning – this book contains a fair amount of carnage and includes scenes of women being ferociously physically and sexually assaulted. I didn’t feel any of it was gratuitous; it seemed a realistic depiction of the vicious criminality that resulted from Prohibition.
Laurel is the sassy, savvy heroine this author loves to write. She’s very much someone who lives up to the adage that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
The same is true of Thatcher. He is the quintessential Brown hero – taciturn, tough, intelligent, driven, and skilled. Like most of the author’s heroes, though, he can at times be overbearing. Laurel spends a lot of the early portions of the book telling Thatcher to leave her be and having him constantly come around anyway. The text makes clear she is only trying to protect her battered heart and actually feels a strong fascination/infatuation with him, but I wish the author had written the dynamic a bit differently. While the two characters have sizzling chemistry, a lot of their back and forth depicts Thatcher as someone who can’t take no for an answer and Laurel as someone who doesn’t know her own mind. Which couldn’t be further from the characters of these tenacious, irrepressible people.
The secondary protagonists are also strong, resilient people. Corrine, Sheriff Bill, Ernie and Irv are also wonderful, warm, caring folks who haven’t let the difficulties life has thrown at them turn them bitter. I especially liked the cantankerous Irv, whose crusty exterior hides a heart of pure gold.
The action is fast paced and the suspense portion of the tale is absolutely intriguing. I loved how the author uses the history of the era to show us the way poverty, war, and prohibition laws drove otherwise law-abiding citizens into crime and how that crime in turn created monsters out of some of them. I also liked the domino nature of the corruption – a small law broken here and there, doing things which were legal just a few short years ago snowball into complete corruption when coupled with greed.
Everything that has made Sandra Brown a best-selling author is out in full force in Blind Tiger, and her regular cadre of readers will be delighted by this latest offering. People unfamiliar with her work who enjoy romantic suspense novels should also give this tale a try – you won’t be disappointed.