(Sigh) Gosh, I don’t know…this is one of those books that’s hard to review, because there are probably many readers who will like this book a lot, probably better than I did. Not that I didn’t like it; I did. The Drifter is very well written – beautiful imagery, vivid descriptions of the Northwest and Puget Sound area of a century ago. The characters are well drawn, convincing, interesting, motivated. The story is well-paced and has appropriate action vs. quiet interludes. But, as I closed the cover after having finished reading it, I realized that nothing had really reached out and grabbed me – the story didn’t affect me in a particularly meaningful way. But, that’s just me; it might affect you differently.
The hero and heroine meet over the barrel of a gun. Lady doctor Leah Mundy is pressed into service by gambler/gunslinger Jackson Underhill when Jackson’s wife Carrie suddenly falls ill. Jackson and Carrie had grown up together in a brutal Chicago orphanage, where Jackson swore he would protect the lovely and fragile Carrie no matter the cost. Jackson and Carrie are running from the law for a murder committed in Texas, and Jackson plans to kidnap the doctor so she can treat his sick wife as he attempts to sail away to Canada on a leaky schooner he won in a game of chance.
Feisty, very intelligent, dedicated Dr. Leah quickly finds a way to sabotage Jackson’s vessel, forcing him to stay at her Whidbey Island home while Carrie recovers. But recovery for Carrie is going to be an iffy thing – she’s severely addicted to her “tonic,” a legal potion consisting primarily of opium. To get her medicine and feed her addiction, Carrie will do a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g.
The only love Leah has ever known was the love she felt for her father – a quack of a doctor who did more harm than good, and who rebuffed Leah’s tender attempts to be close to him. When handsome drifter Jackson Underhill shows up, Leah fights against her attraction, certain no good can come of loving a man who will only hurt and reject her. Then Carrie is drowned in a boating accident while attempting to leave Jackson on the arm of a wealthy timber baron, and Leah and Jackson suddenly find themselves free to acknowledge their growing attraction.
Leah and Jackson have each handled their childhood hurts in different ways. Leah has become the committed physician, to the point where she has almost obliterated her personal self and buried her own needs and desires under the guise of professional dedication. Jackson, heartbreakingly abandoned at the age of five by his prostitute mother, has never known any kind of love, not even for Carrie. When he realizes his strong emotions for the lady doctor, he finds himself terrified at how to handle his newly found feelings, and lashes out at Leah to cover his confusion.
A couple of problems I had were that even though Leah and Jackson are an appealing heroine and hero, and I liked them both, and, while I know the ramifications of having parents who didn’t love you can last a lifetime, to make this issue last throughout a romance story gets me a little antsy for the characters to get past it and move on. Once a motivation is well established, repeating it over and over again is tiresome. Also, this story takes place in 1894. I doubt people used terms like “eat me,” “dead meat,” or “give me a break” a hundred years ago. Even if there is evidence to support that they did, these terms are too closely associated with current vernacular, and using them in the context of a century ago jolted me right out of the story.
Problems aside, Susan Wiggs has written a very lovely tale with an appealing hero and heroine, and if you are a dedicated fan, you will enjoy this book. You can probably tell that I wanted to like The Drifter more than I did, but, well, there you have it.