Loner’s Lady is a western, and I so like a good western. However, this book was a total washout. The heroine is an angry shrew who acts stupidly thoroughout the book, the story is rife with illogic and contradictions, and the hero has a lot of potential that’s wasted. Not even the heroine’s wonderful name could save this book.
Ellen Callahan grew up as the daughter of the town drunk and married the charming Dan O’Brian to escape. After her father died, she bought a small farm with her inheritance; she loves the land fiercely. When the book begins, Dan has been gone for two years and Ellen is working the land herself. She’s lonely, overworked, and has no idea where her husband is…or if he’s alive or dead. When a ragged stranger appears on her farm, Ellen gives him some food and offers to let him sleep in the barn. The man, Jess Flint, has his own agenda when it comes to Ellen’s land.
The day after Jess comes by her home, Ellen falls in the creek while she’s getting water and breaks her leg. She’s unable to do much and accepts Jess’s offer to help. All she can give him is food and shelter, but that’s enough for him since he will now have the time and access to search her land. A while back, Jess was part of a gang that included Dan O’Brian and two other men. They were robbers and made one really good heist and secretly buried the gold on Ellen’s farm. Jess has since left the gang and wants to get the gold, at first for himself, and later to help Ellen. When he hears that Dan and the gang have broken out of jail, he knows they will come to the farm and he wants to protect Ellen, whom he has come to love. But she is still a married woman.
I never liked Ellen O’Brian. To give her her due, she has plenty of reasons to be resentful, but her constant anger throughout the book grew wearisome. She grinds her teeth, spits out her words, curses, and is generally mad at God and man. I nearly cut her some slack because of her circumstances, but when she got into a towering rage and broke all her china, that was it. I’m sorry – but when a character acts like this, I write her off. Being justifiably angry is one thing, but acting childish and willfully destructive is another. Ellen is also contradictory – at one point, she says the townspeople all look down on her because of her father, but she’s won the blue ribbon for her cakes at the fair for years and all the tradesmen call her “Miss Ellen.” At one point in the book, some of the women gossip about her, but then everyone treats her with respect. All in she seems to be well liked despite her perceptions. Ellen is stubborn and not inclined to take Jess’s advice when the gang makes an appearance at her farm. She also baits the gang’s sadist and maintains her loyalty to Dan even when he shows up drunk and in the company of criminals. But then we must keep up the TSTL ideal, mustn’t we?
Jess had some real potential. He was a former Army surgeon who spent time as a Union POW under the rule of a sadistic prison commander. We get a few flashbacks to Jess’s experiences in the prison and I think they were much more interesting than the plot of this novel. He begins as a strong, silent loner, but grows into a more interesting character. I couldn’t understand his attraction to the sullen and angry Ellen, and wished he could have been in a different book.
A subplot involving Ellen’s uncle, the town doctor, and his attraction to a local widow intrudes on the narrative and is very poorly integrated into the main storyline. Just as things were getting tense back at the farm, there’d be a couple of paragraphs about the doctor and the widow. I’d scratch my head and wonder where that came from and then it would be back to the main story. Then the subplot would show up again at an inappropriate time until it sort of limped to a semi-resolution.
Westerns can be so good, but this book is so bad. I’m glad I’m a fast reader and didn’t have to spend too much time on it. Jess was such a potentially interesting character – too bad he was trapped in such a poor story.