The Taming of Jessi Rose
The Taming of Jessi Rose opens with ten year old Griffin Sloan witnessing his mother’s slow death from tuberculosis. Griffin’s mother had run the railroad station and the railroad bosses had promised she would run the new station when the new rail line came through. However, the new line was subsequently built in another part of town, so the bosses reneged on their promise and gave the new station to someone else, making her station obsolete and forcing the Sloans into poverty. After burying his mother, Griffin takes off to make his way in the world, vowing vengeance on the railroad owners who he blames for his mother’s death.
Fifteen years later, thirty-two year old Jessi Rose Clayton sees her father fatally shot during a night time cattle stampede. Before he dies, Jessi’s father tells her that he saw Clem Davis pull the trigger. Jessi knows that Davis works for local land owner Reed Darcy. Darcy has been forcing all of the ranch and business owners to sell their property to him so that he can sell it to the railroads. Jessi’s father was murdered because he wouldn’t sell. The sheriff is in Darcy’s pocket, so he refuses to investigate the murder. There seems to be nothing that she can do.
Enter Griffin Sloan Blake. A Texas preacher found the young Griffin working in a whorehouse and adopted him. Griffin’s method of revenge has been robbing trains, for which he has landed in a federal penitentiary. Close family friend U.S. Deputy Marshal Dixon Wildhorse (the hero of Topaz, an earlier book by author Jenkins), has received a letter from Jessi’s ten year old nephew requesting help in stopping and arresting Darcy. Wildhorse offers Griffin a deal – he can get out of prison with a full pardon if he agrees to help the Claytons and take Darcy down.
While Ms. Jenkins’ research is impeccable, the story suffers pacing problems. The author also has a tendency to present facts as history lessons rather than weaving them into the narrative. This flaw is easy to overlook, however, because the facts she presents regarding African-American history in the Old West is fascinating. Of particular interest was the fate of African-Americans who fought at the Alamo. Ms. Jenkins’ is perhaps the best author of this genre. While I look forward to reading her again, the pacing problems need to be discussed.
All the background information regarding Griffin and his past, and Jessi and hers, is revealed into the first 18 pages of text. Because so much information is crammed into the first chapter, I felt I had missed a previous novel and was lacking insider information. The pacing problems are also revealed in the author’s tendency to state the same thing twice. There were a few instances when Griffin would remember something that had occurred in the past. Then, a few paragraphs later, Griffin would tell Jessi about the event in almost the exact same detail.
Also problematical was Ms Jenkins’ inability to “show, don’t tell.” The most obvious instance of this was in the character of Reed Darcy. Darcy is the villain, a central figure to the story, and though we are told about his evil misdeeds, we never actually see him do anything really bad.
Griffin is told that Darcy wants Jessi, but that information isn’t revealed until somewhere in the middle of the story. When Jessi and Darcy finally confront one another, Darcy tells her to marry him now because he won’t ask again. While I certainly didn’t expect Jessi to accept any romantic overtures from Darcy, but in the way it is presented, the idea that Darcy wants to marry Jessi is not believeable.
Despite these problems, I found the story to be entertaining and the outlaws, the Terrible Twins, were amusing. The chemistry between Jessi Rose and Griffin is sensually exciting, and the Preacher, the bounty hunter, was fascinating (I hope Ms. Jenkins tells his story next). It’s clear to see why this author is so highly regarded in the genre as an author of historical romance – her ability to tell the stories of African Americans is such a breath of fresh air amidst traditional white and “half-breed” romances. I look forward to reading her in the future, but hope she presents her story slightly better the next time around.