Jake Walker's Wife
Reading the back of Jake Walker’s Wife, you would assume it was a Western Romance. The hero is a wanted man from Texas, and the heroine’s father owns some kind of ranch. Actually, it’s set primarily in Maryland in 1850, but if you’re looking for historical authenticity, you won’t find it here. And although the heroine provides some interest, there’s not much else to recommend this book.
Ever since W.C. Atwood had the really bad luck to get convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, he has been on the run from the law. He calls himself Jake Walker, but wanted posters with his real name seem to follow him everywhere, so he never stays in one place for long. He’s satisfied with this drifter’s existence for ten years, until he hires on at the Foggy Bottom Farm – and meets Bess Beckley, the woman of his dreams.
Bess has been waiting forever for a man like Jake. Ever since her mother died, she’s done most of the work at the Foggy Bottom, raising her twin brothers and doing all the tasks her father doesn’t have the heart to do. Bess quickly loses her heart to Jake, and the feeling is mutual. But as much as she enjoys the kisses they share, she knows Jake is holding something back from her. Jake would love to be able to tell her that he is a wanted man, but he just can’t bring himself to say the words. Then his past catches up with him, and it looks like he and Bess might be separated forever. Will he ever be able to face his past and claim the woman he loves?
The problems with this book are two-fold. The first is the complete lack of historical accuracy. It starts right at the beginning, when Jake is captured by U.S. Marshals in Texas in 1840. Texas was not a part of the United States yet at the time. Then he pops up in Maryland in 1850, where Bess’s family owns a ranch. Neither her family or anyone else’s in the area seems to have any slaves, which would have been decidedly odd at the time, especially since Bess’s father is supposed to have a lot of money. The errors just keep piling up from there, as the author introduces barbed wire twenty-five years before it was invented, and also anticipates modern medical advances and the Pony Express by decades. I found myself wondering why the book wasn’t set somewhere else (like Wyoming or Montana) thirty years later, when it would have been much more accurate. There is no compelling reason for it to be set in Maryland in the first place, and any wanted man worth his salt would have run west in 1840, not toward the east and civilization. Not everyone is a stickler for accuracy, but even if you can get past all these errors, the book is difficult to get through. Bess is quite likable, and she really does deserve all kinds of happiness, but she would have been better served by a different book and a different hero. Jake is so loaded down with baggage, he can hardly walk upright. In addition to being a wanted man, he also suffered an oppressively religious upbringing and was beaten routinely by his self-righteous uncle. As if that weren’t enough, he also believes all women are evil at first, even though there is no compelling reason for him to do so. He falls in love with Bess quickly, but he spends most of the book agonizing over whether to tell her the truth. We all know the truth is going to come out eventually, so his endless thoughts on the subject come across as boring and repetitive. When his past finally does catch up with him, there is a lengthy and uninteresting separation between the hero and the heroine.
Mid-nineteenth century Maryland would make a fascinating setting for a romance, if it were done correctly. Unfortunately, Jake Walker’s Wife really misses the mark. And although I found Bess likable, I don’t think I would have found Jake interesting in any state or decade. Even if you don’t mind the occasional anachronism, I’d think twice before picking this one up.