Fortune’s Treasure is a western with some fun twists, and though its lead characters were quite likable, the plot does not do them justice. Too many coincidences require too much suspension of disbelief, and the strong characterizations cannot overcome other flaws in the story’s plot, including an ending that seemed manufactured.
Nora-Leigh Dillon is a dreamer who is reluctantly the schoolmarm in late-nineteenth-century Steamboat Bend, Montana. As the book opens, she’s watching her charges and thinking that she hates children, a fun beginning to a story about a likable heroine who longs to have an adventure but despairs of it ever happening. Nora-Leigh lives with her blind mother and grandparents. The men of the town leave her alone, with one exception – and he is totally undesirable to Nora.
Clay Sullivan is a U.S. Army scout who has been given the assignment of finding a lost gold shipment. Clay wants the reward for recovering it, as he is tired of the Army and wants to buy a ranch, get married, and have a family. When the Army decides that Clay should go into Steamboat Bend in disguise, his brother convinces Clay to pretend he’s a pirate – complete with an eye patch. One small problem is that he cannot remember which eye to patch. Dreaming up seafaring tales to amuse the populace when he’s never been aboard a ship is also quite trying and Clay often curses his pirate disguise. Inconspicuous he is not.
Nora-Leigh is an eccentric klutz who wears men’s pants and rides a bicycle around town. She is saved from caricature because she is also intelligent and courageous. She is very close to her Grandfather, who has always fostered her dreams. Grandpa turns out to have a map and knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing gold shipment. He’ll give it to Clay for a price: Clay has to take Nora with him to find it. Gramps wants to see that Nora gets her adventure, and he is also matchmaking.
Nora and Clay at first go together like a bad salad dressing – oil and water don’t mix – but they do create a lot of heat around the campfire at night. Their tale is spiced with a wise old Indian and a grizzled trapper, saved from being clichés by their unique friendship with each other and Clay. While this book is mostly light-hearted, there is very real danger on the trail in the form of a young soldier who feels that Clay has wronged him and intends to get even.
The fun part here is that Ms Carson sets the “damsel in distress/rescue” syndrome on its ear. Nora’s strength and basic goodness prove to be a match for the strong, silent Clay. Clay’s treatment of the villain when he catches him shows that Clay is an unusual and fair man. There are some nice twists and turns in what could have been a completely predictable romance. But, the book is hurt by the number of coincidences involved in locating the missing gold. Additionally, the happy ending is marred by a hero/heroine separation that seemed unwarranted. Then too, the ending seemed contrived.
Author Carson has the ability to create interesting characters, but she needs to create stories more worthy of them. If she can reduce her reliance on romance novel plotting clichés, I’d definitely read her again.