Images in Scarlet
Grade : C+

I enjoy a good amnesia story - it's interesting to see how an author serves up a fresh twist on an old cliché. Images in Scarlet uses amnesia to create a hero with a lot of vulnerability and sweetness, which is nice. Unfortunately, the the book doesn't live up to its promise.

Allison Caine encounters a sleeping man in the middle of the road. When she wakes him, he acts weird and runs off, dropping a photograph of a woman, signed "Lorena." Later, a wheel comes off her wagon and this same strange man, whose name is Jake, helps her fix it. Allie and Jake hit it off, and since Allie has food and Jake is hungry, he decides to ride with her for a while.

Allie is a professional photographer who followed her father through the Civil War battlefields, taking pictures. Now her family is dead and she doesn't want to stay in Missouri, so she's on her way to the Santa Fe trail, where she'll hook up with a wagon train and head further west.

Jake is a man with a problem or two. He has been through the Civil War and spent some time in Andersonville, the horrific Confederate prison camp, but that's all he remembers. He has no memory of anything before that, including his own name. He has periodic "fits" in which he passes out abruptly (this is why he was sleeping in the road when Allie first encountered him) and he occasionally has bizarre flashbacks which feature blood and this woman Lorena, whom he assumes is his wife. Jake and Allie's first kiss happens when he's in one of these fugue states, and he thinks that she's Lorena.

Allie and Jake quickly become close friends. Allie falls hard for him, but she denies her feelings because her past has taught her to distrust men. As they become closer on their way out west, Jake's problems become more acute. His flashbacks convince him that something terrible happened to Lorena, and he's afraid that he murdered her. He cannot commit to a relationship with Allie while he fears that he's either married or a killer.

I enjoyed this book a lot at first, mostly because the characters are tremendously likable. Allie is one of those spitfire heroines, an independent woman with a hair-trigger temper and a storehouse of dirty words. Underneath all this, though, she's as soft and vulnerable as heroines get, and Jake gets through all her prickly defenses in a matter of minutes.

Jake is a terrific hero. He's friendly, funny, earnest, and willing to wash dishes. He doesn't carry a gun because he's a lousy shot, and he has no problem letting Allie do the driving, shooting, bringing-home-of--bacon, etc. As you can tell, he is rather unusual for a Western hero, and I found him refreshing, especially the way he is willing to express his emotions openly. The relationship that forms between him and Allie is one of genuine liking and trust before it develops into anything else.

Unfortunately, the romance between Jake and Allie takes a long time to develop, and in the process I lost a lot of my earlier fondness for Jake. He kisses her, then apologizes. She kisses him, then he pushes her away. He leaves, then he comes back. They almost make love, but then he wants to stop. They do make love - no, no, I'm wrong, he's just fantasizing. By this time I'm wondering where Jake's backbone is. I like a wounded hero as much as the next girl, but I also like him to get over it, already. Jake's reluctance, which continues even after he and Allie become lovers, pretty much kills whatever chemistry they had.

Sometimes Lee's interest in the history of the period gets intrusive: she doesn't always weave the details into the plot very well. This is a fairly minor complaint for me, since the history lessons that Lee keeps giving me are genuinely interesting. What is more of a problem, however, is the way the mystery of Jake's identity takes over the plot. Is he a murderer or isn't he? What do you think? It all shakes out in a fairly improbable way, which really doesn't make any sense, but by that point I wasn't interested in Jake's plight any more anyway.

Images in Scarlet is well written, and seems to be historically accurate (from what I can tell; the American West is not my subject). The details about women photographers are particularly interesting. There is a lot of humor here, and the characters can be charming. Lee wasn't able to maintain the chemistry and the interest throughout the book, but the first third or so was promising. I can't recommend this book wholeheartedly, but that won't stop me from picking up Samantha Lee's next one.

Reviewed by Jennifer Keirans
Grade : C+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : September 22, 1999

Publication Date: 1999

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Jennifer Keirans

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