Calico Spy
Grade : B

This is the third book in Ms. Brownley’s Undercover Ladies series and like the other two it turns the Wild West into a fun, funny and romantic place to be. Of course, there’s plenty of danger and hard work as well as serious subjects such as homicide. However, the writing and main events of the story keep the book lighthearted and engaging, which makes for a cheery, entertaining read.

Two waitresses from the Harvey House Restaurant in Calico, Kansas, have been murdered, with little to no evidence left behind. It is Sheriff Branch Whitman’s job to find the killer, but this case is also personal. He was a friend of one of the girls and is as eager as anyone to see the crimes solved but with no clues, no witnesses and no obvious motive the case has been going nowhere. That doesn’t mean he appreciates it when Mr. Harvey bursts into his office to advise him that Harvey House Restaurants have employed the Pinkerton Agency to ensure justice is done for their fallen comrades. The last time Branch had Pinkerton operatives involved in one of his cases, the suspects had escaped and he had almost been killed. Their latest escapade with the James gang left a young boy dead. The last thing Branch wants is that kind of trouble in his town.

Katie Madison has successfully tracked down any number of criminals for Pinkerton’s, but this case in Calico will be her first murder. The problem is, will she keep her job at Harvey House long enough to solve the case? She can’t seem to keep her apron perfectly clean, has trouble memorizing orders and has no clue how to decipher the cup handle code used for letting the hostess know who gets what drinks. In the way of all independent minded romance heroines, she also can’t cook and is a fiasco at most domestic chores. In spite of her considerable struggles, she is determined to succeed and to that end she gives her all to the tasks assigned her.

As the new girl, one of those tasks is to get the Sheriff into a dinner coat when he stops by the restaurant at supper time. He is notorious for not wanting to wear one in spite of Harvey House rules. No one is more surprised than her when she succeeds. She had been warned the Sheriff was “an old crank, set in his ways and unwilling to listen to reason or work with Pinkerton detectives.” The man before her is no such thing. Charming, handsome and no older than thirty-five, Katie soon finds herself in a mild flirtation with him. It makes a pleasant start to their relationship.

Katie and Branch bump into each other several more times before she makes the move that earns his grudging respect – stopping a bank robbery with an apple pie. That’s a fun scene I don’t plan to spoil by giving too much away, but it marks a turning point for our hero and heroine. Branch begins to admire Katie’s tenacity and trust her instincts, and the two begin to work with each other to solve the case. Naturally, mayhem, romance and faith abound.

Ms. Brownley does several things extremely well in this story. The first is in creating characters with some depth and some normal issues that keep them apart. Katie’s personality was formed by the fact that she was never a traditional beauty (red hair, freckles and an impetuous nature), traits which were made into flaws by her absconding fiancé and her sister, with whom he absconded. The incident and resulting insults made her feel as though she was not ever going to be the object of a man’s romantic interest and she has made up for that by being an excellent detective. I like how Katie carried hurt from this but not bitterness. Katie had normal, friendly relationships with the men around her, she just didn’t expect a proposal.

Branch has the same sort of issues but from a different cause. His wife died in the worst tornado the town had ever seen. Since then he has been reluctant to give his heart, not wanting to be hurt again. In many a romance this would mean he was rude and nasty to all but a few special women but that is not the case here. Branch has several normal relationships with women and doesn’t treat the beautiful young Katie – to whom he is attracted – with anything but respect. He doesn’t blame the world for his broken heart or snarl his way through his encounters with pretty girls. He just doesn’t plan to fall in love. This is a crucial part of the storyline for him, as he learns to trust God with the future, both in regards to his son and in regards to Katie.

Another aspect done very well here is the way the story is presented. Subjects such as faith and angst are naturally woven into the story line and the writing befits a tale with serious subject matter handled in a light hearted way. In other words, the author’s balancing of the comedic with the difficult is spot on.

I liked the way the romance progressed as well. Both characters act very much within the bounds of their personalities and the pacing is perfect for them as a couple. There are more moments of action than courtship but that reflects who each of them is as an individual. Katie would have run from a man offering chocolates and flowers, but the guy who is willing to check out a mysterious apartment with her in the middle of the night is the ideal man for her. It’s the same for Branch. Already married to his job he needs someone who can step into that with him, not try to pull him from it.

The tantalizing pieces of information we are given about the Harvey House restaurants were a win for me as well. I had heard of “Harvey Girls” before but had no real knowledge of what they did. This book served as a nice introduction to them.

My quibbles with the tale were that it took a bit for the mystery to take off and my on-going annoyance with children in romance novels falling in insta-love with their new mommy. Those things don’t really detract much from the overall story, though.

I think if you like Westerns or Inspirational romances you will very much enjoy Calico Spy. I know I certainly did.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd

Grade: B

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : January 19, 2016

Publication Date: 01/2016

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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