Old Skool is still alive and well in Steel Resolve, a western romance where Fatal Attraction meets MacLeod’s Daughters to negligible results. This is a narrative with some women problems. And PoV problems. And plotting problems…
Cowboy carpenter-for-hire Chase Steele has one problem, namely Fiona Barkley, who has been stalking him since their drunken one-night-stand. After breaking into his apartment, Fiona finds a reconciliatory perfumed greeting card from Mary Cardwell Savage – postmarked the day of Fiona’s sexual encounter with Chase, after which Chase informed her he never wanted to see her again. This, surely, must be why Chase dumped her after the sex! Fiona immediately knows that the woman is The Enemy and Must Be Eliminated, but Chase is leaving Arizona, headed back to his hometown of Big Sky, Montana to try to win Mary back. That will happen over Fiona’s dead body.
Mary and Chase broke up years ago, and Chase has been working his way around the country ever since, trying to figure out who he is. While the card results in Chase declaring his determination to win Mary back no matter what, Mary is reluctant to trust him – and in fact is being courted by the sociopathic Deputy Dillon Ramsey, who also wants Mary at any cost.
While trying to win Mary back, Chase devotes himself to finding his biological father but only comes up with initials torn from the pages of his late mother’s notebook. He thinks he’s hit a lucky break when Fiona apparently dies in a car accident – her stalking is just one less problem he has to deal with – and shoves her into the back of his mind. But then a woman named Lucy Carson shows up in town, and she’d do anything to become Mary’s new best friend. As Mary tries to figure out which man she wants to be with, Lucy gets closer…and closer…
Steel Resolve is a stalker story that is utterly lacking in suspense. You can likely staple together all the signs from the clues I’ve given you and figure out Lucy’s real identity, and what Dillon wants from Mary. The book does not bother to keep its secrets close to its vest, and thus it’s easy to find yourself two steps ahead of Chase – and twenty in front of Mary, who, I fear, is as credulous as a turkey drowning in a rainstorm.
The main characters are mediocre. Chase, as you can tell, has a case of wandering tongue and wandering dong, which makes it hard for me to believe that he’ll ever be satisfied in Big Sky with Mary. The author addresses her as ‘the cowgirl’ nonstop, and that, indeed, is Mary’s biggest character trait – she seems to have no interests or depths beyond bouncing around on a saddle (and Chase). Fiona is a typical bunny-boiling maniac and a plot twist that basically blames childhood abuse for the fact she’s a murdering monster was breathtakingly offensive.
The romance between Chase and Mary has no juice, no pulp, no heat – they fell in love before the book begins and thus never have a chance to convince the audience of the long-term love that neither of them can ever forget. They are bland, they have bland sex, and there is never any real tension because Chase will alpha his way into Mary’s pants before she can ask too many questions.
There are a lot of narrators, most of them unnecessary to the novel’s pacing (and most of them exist because the book cannot let us think for ourselves, not even for a second). Not only do we hop between Mary, Chase and Fiona’s heads but we also get PoV chapters from Dillon and Mary’s father. I still have no idea why we needed to be with him as he takes in toxicology reports and participates in a subplot that underscores Dillon’s evilness when the evidence he processes might have been easily discovered and used by the main characters. We have minor characters and major characters committing actions that utterly defy logic – like Chase suspecting something is off about Lucy, but saying nothing to Mary before Mary moves in with her. Like Chase’s foreman knowing about the fact that Fiona’s pulled similar obsessive moves on other men who’ve worked for him, but letting Chase leave a bar with Fiona when he’s three sheets to the wind because he (the foreman) is old friends with Fiona and feels sorry for her. That’s not helpful when Fiona pulls a knife on Chase and tries to stab him. The plot needs to happen, so logic is damned until it’s basically neck deep in frozen excrement in purgatory.
The writing style is pedestrian (so many descriptors!), which really doesn’t help the nutty blandness of the story. The only Steel Resolve here will ultimately be the reader’s determination to keep plowing forward in reading the book, in spite of all of the warning sirens clanging in their minds begging them to stop.