The Runaway Heiress
One of my favorite old movies is the Frank Capra classic It Happened One Night, in which a desperate heiress flees an unappealing future and ends up with an attractive rogue as her traveling companion. The Runaway Heiress tells a very similar story, and for the most part succeeds. I smiled a lot as I read this book, even if I did find myself raising an eyebrow over minor glitches in the author’s writing.
Evelyn Thurgood-Baron is stuck in a gilded cage. The daughter of a wealthy oilman, she’s hemmed in by polite society’s expectations of her. She just wants to live – to go places, do things, have an adventure or two, without feeling so constricted. She sneaks some of her father’s brandy and steals out of a Beaumont, Texas hotel, ending up in a saloon where she wins an amateur singing contest before she’s discovered and hauled back home. She learns that her father has planned her marriage to a business associate, and that’s the last straw for Evelyn. She runs away, posing as a lady’s maid for a wealthy woman on her way across Texas. Aside from the fact that she’s inept as a maid, there’s another challenge for Evelyn: although she’s too polite to say it out loud, this “Mrs. Smythe” is just about the ugliest woman she’s ever seen.
And with good reason, because “Mrs. Smythe” is really Luke Devereaux, a New Orleans policeman on the lam. Framed for murder and corruption, Luke is dodging the law and trying to find an old colleague who knows the truth and is rumored to be in New Mexico. He’s finagled his way onto this train, posing as the real Mrs. Smythe, and thinks his most pressing troubles are behind him – until he encounters the beautiful and strangely inept young woman who claims she’s been hired as his maid, and insists on accompanying him at least to El Paso. It isn’t until after they’re forced to jump from the train that Luke gives up the masquerade. He reluctantly agrees to escort “Eve” to El Paso, but after that, they’ll go their separate ways, much as he might like to spend some more time with her.
If you enjoy screwball comedies from the 1930s and ’40s, this book should appeal to you. I enjoyed both heroine and hero, and smiled a lot while I was reading. Evelyn is pretty intelligent, but she lacks street smarts. Yet there’s a charming freshness to her naiveté. She reasons that “the change of life” may be responsible for “Mrs. Smythe’s” mannish appearance, and innocently offers to help her employer with better makeup, with amusing results. Luke tries so hard to be gruff with Evelyn once he throws off his disguise, but he just can’t be as cold-hearted to her as he knows he should be. He’s falling in love, and there’s nothing he can do to prevent it.
Ms. Holm uses various settings to good comic effect. Luke and Evelyn meet up with some very polite bandits, spend a night in a brothel, and get separated more than once, only to have fate throw them together again. There’s a really funny scene where Evelyn gets caught in the crossfire of a lovers’ triangle, and it’s her resourcefulness that gets her out of that pickle. The dialogue sounds natural, not forced, and it flows well.
Which is not to say that the book was a total breeze for me. I had a problem with the set-up for Luke’s backstory. There was a lot to it, with many people named, and it got a little confusing. The rest of my reading difficulty came in the mechanics of the writing. While she doesn’t engage in headhopping, the author’s style kept drawing me out of the action: it got choppy in parts and there were numerous single-sentence paragraphs, as well as minor grammatical and punctuation errors. On the whole, though, I was able to get back to smiling and chuckling, and if you like a good road romance maybe you’ll do the same. Hit the road with Luke and Evelyn on a journey to love; I think you’ll like the trip.
|Review Date:||January 31, 2002|