Legally Binding is the second book in a trilogy called Shotgun Sallys. The first book, Susan Kearney’s Out for Justice, was pretty lame, with a dimwitted heroine who was supposedly Out for Justice after the murder of her brother, but who mostly seemed Out to Get Laid since she spent half the time focused on getting the hero to fall for her. But I’m always up for a legal-type thriller and this book is by a different author, so I started it hoping for the best. Verdict: Just as dumb.
Rancher Bart Rawlins wakes up one morning covered in blood. He has no idea how he got home from the bar he was at the night before, or why there is blood on him. Naturally that’s the cue for the local deputy who hates Bart to come knocking on his door. Bart’s hated uncle was murdered with Bart’s knife. He’s under arrest for murder.
Lindsey Wellington is a newcomer to Mustang Valley, Texas. The youngest daughter of a prominent Boston family, she chose not to join the family’s law firm and set out to make a name for herself. Evidently she decided the best way to do that was to settle in a tiny Texas town. She doesn’t specialize in criminal law, but her bosses at the small firm she works for assigns her Bart’s case anyway. Lindsey gets Bart out on bail and they run around trying to figure out who the real killer is, pausing every once in a while to flirt with each other and fall in love.
This is a completely by-the-numbers suspense story by an author who clearly knows all the right elements to use but not how to invest them with any heart or feeling. The characters are wooden and boring. Lindsay has her required character issue she needs to overcome by the end, and that’s all there is to her character. Bart is a stock good ol’ boy cliché, completely lacking in dimension. The rest of the cast is either filled out by barely existent characters who don’t have personalities at all, or those who are walking stereotypes. These include the mean ol’ deputy who has a grudge against Bart ever since he lost the quarterback position to him back in high school and the boozing, hotheaded cousin who just knows Bart killed his daddy. The mystery follows a predictable path, plodding though the motions. Books don’t come more trite than this.
If that were all this book was, it would only be a waste of time. But it’s also an annoying, ultimately very aggravating one. Bart is one of the dumbest romance heroes I’ve come across in some time. It starts when Lindsey comes to introduce herself, and Bart tells her, “They forgot to tell me you were the prettiest lawyer in the firm. Heck, I’d be willing to bet you’re the prettiest lawyer in the whole damn county.” He’s accused of murder, so you’d think flirting with his lawyer would be a low priority. I guess you just can’t keep a virile good ol’ boy down. How does his attorney respond to this? By stammering and blushing like a schoolgirl, of course. That’s what “professional” women in romance novels do most of the time.
Bart’s the kind of guy who tells his hotheaded cousin that if he doesn’t stay away from Bart’s daddy, Bart will kill him. This, despite the fact that Lindsey just got through telling him not to confront his cousin, and he’s already been charged with murdering the guy’s father. I can’t mention most of the dumbest things Bart does, since the majority take place in the final third of the story. It’s one boneheaded move after another, which likely are meant to show what a good, selfless person he is, but instead only show what a brainless dope he is. And we knew that already. Heroines who try to play the martyr are bad enough. Heroes who try the same are worse. My poor copy of this book was slammed down repeatedly in the last fifty pages. If only someone had done the same to Bart.
The best thing I can say about the stupid parts is that they’re not as boring as the rest. This is a lifeless, uninspired, and completely mechanical book, and chances are the story contained within its pages is one romantic suspense readers have read countless times before. There’s no real reason to read it again here.