The Bachelor is set in Calgary, Alberta in 1893, and the hero is a Mountie. The story is a good one and so are the characters, but it suffered from “Harlequin Historical” compression – there were lots of interesting points that were hurried over. If only it could have been longer!
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are having a charity raffle at the local harvest fair. Duck the Mountie in the water and you get him and his services for 24 hours. Even though she can’t really afford it, Diana Campbell knows she has a good arm, and heaven knows she could use the help. So she buys a chance and ducks Mitchell Reid.
Diana is the sole support of her younger brothers and sisters. She works in a plant plucking chickens – a job that pays her just about enough to keep food on the table. Her older brothers work and help too, but she is stretched thin. Diana plans to have Mitch do some of the heavy work (liming the privy) and he comes to the plant with her and helps her pluck chickens. Mitch’s efforts gain Diana and her family some much needed extra money. Mitch can’t help but like and admire Diana, and when his time of service is up he doesn’t want to leave.
There is a lot going on in The Bachelor, but due to space constrictions, much of it is only sketched. Mitch suffers from guilt. Before he went away to become a Mountie, he and some of his friends got drunk and one of them fell in the river. Mitch was too inebriated to go to his rescue, and the friend and Mitch’s dog were drowned. Mitch won’t talk to the man’s mother even though she does not blame him and would like to share her memories of her son. Mitch has buried himself in his job and is keenly interested in the new fingerprint theory proposed by Francis Galton. There are some very good scenes where he uses fingerprints to try and solve a bank robbery.
Diana is mostly a sympathetic character, although there are times her actions make no sense. She was born into a wealthy family but when her parents died, the servants and her relatives stole everything (this is only hinted at), leaving her to support her younger siblings. Her work is unpleasant and she is paid less than a man; and when she gets a second job with an optometrist he also pays her less than a man (the justification for this is that men have families to support). Diana is tired of working so hard and contemplates a relationship with the optometrist, even though she does not care for him. Yet she pushes Mitch away even though she likes him. Why? He is gainfully employed, a nice man and they have had incendiary sex. The author introduces a conflict where it looks like Diana’s brothers are the bank robbers, but that fizzles out quickly. Yet she still holds Mitch off. It’s baffling.
I could see the bare bones of a darn good Western Historical Romance here, but the book is just too short to do justice to the story and the characters. Even so, it’s one of the better short books I have read this year, and a very nice change from the angst and adventure found in contemporary counterparts. A big plus is the Canadian setting too. I recommend it and am glad that HH continues to publish Westerns…they’re definitely a dying breed.