Leah and the Bounty Hunter
Ned Buntline, the writer who is credited with popularizing the dime novel in the American Old West, would have loved Elaine Levine’s writing. Levine pens Western romances using old fashioned storytelling techniques. Her stories are often over the top with quirky individual characters and blood-thirsty events geared to the gut. Leah and the Bounty Hunter, the third of the Men of Defiance series, is no different than its predecessors.
Jace Gage, known in the popular press as the Avenger, has accepted the job of cleaning up the near-ghost town of Defiance, Dakota Territory, of its corrupt sheriff and his gang. Jace, who was married to a spy during the Civil War, is weary of life. Although he sees himself as a killer, mostly he tries to talk the still innocent, misguided people who pull a gun on him into giving up rather than shooting. Once given a job, however, he’ll move heaven and hell to see it through.
Growing up in Defiance, Leah Morgan has seen the town dwindle and nearly die since Sheriff Bill Kemp took over. Having killed Leah’s gambler father, Kemp and his thugs have dominated everything in the town including her mother and her. When times got tough, Leah escaped into the mountains where she met an old trapper who taught her survival tactics. Now Leah with her pet wolf is a force to be reckoned with.
As Jace blasts his way one by one through Kemp’s goons and thugs, he and Leah are thrown together. Since his marriage was such a disaster, he isn’t looking for another relationship with a woman. Leah, on her part, having only the crusty mountain man as an example of decent men, is loath to think about Jace as anything but another hired gun.
Getting these two together is a real challenge for a writer, and Levine is definitely the author to pull it off. She transforms a man whose track record of killing starts nearly at page one into a sympathetic human being and a girl who is light years beyond a tomboy and nearly as crusty as her mountain man mentor into a courageous, admirable woman.
The biggest problem with the book, however, is its unevenness. In the first chapter Jace saves Leah from a few men who ambush her. In later chapters Leah ably proves that she is capable of taking care of herself since she can shoot, throw a knife, and use basic self-defense tactics swiftly and effectively. So why did Jace need to protect her? Where was the self-sufficient, wary Leah in the first chapter?
Another problematic character is the sheriff who has protected Leah from the men in the town for years. When a group of his men gang up on her, bent on raping her, and the sheriff hears about it, he’s furious and shoots one of the instigators. But he isn’t so incensed when nearly the same thing happens at the beginning of the book.
Despite glitches like these, the book is an action-packed, emotional, sexy ride through the lives of some colorful Western characters.
Those who have read the previous two books, starting with Rachel and the Hired Gun and through Audrey and the Maverick, will be happy to revisit the other two women of Defiance who found their rough and tumble partners in equally perilous situations.