Grade : C

This is probably the most disappointing book I have read in quite some time, mostly because of what it could have been, but for some reason, wasn't. Topaz, a multicultural romance, features a wonderful, dynamic and sexy hero, a feisty, determined, independent heroine, and great chemistry. When I first started reading it, for about the first 100 pages or so, I kept thinking how wonderful this book was. Beyond the great hero and heroine, there was sparkling dialogue, engaging prose and hot sex scenes. I even learned some historical facts about an era and a people that I didn't know much about. It seemed to me that Topaz was not only destined to receive an A+, but be in my mind, a Desert Isle Keeper. But something happened along the way to the conclusion of this novel. It lost its way and nearly lost me in the process.

Katherine Love is a Black woman ahead of her time. Raised by a strong, independent woman, Kate is one herself and at the novel's opening, is working as an investigative reporter to expose Rupert Samuel's scheme to bilk money intended for poor and elderly Blacks. As part of her scheme, Katherine had gotten involved with Rupert and even accepted his proposal of marriage, a wedding that is to take place the next day. When Rupert catches Katherine and her plans are exposed, he is determined to marry her anyway, then lock her away in an insane asylum. But Katherine is rescued by Dix Wildhorse, a Black US Marshal.

Dix isn't rescuing Katherine out of the goodness of his heart, however. Kate's father, Bart Love, stole Dix's property and unless Kate agrees to marry Dix (who wants a wife for companionship and to bear his children), Bart is going to hang for his crimes. Despite her aversion to marriage and the fact that she is not close to her unscrupulous father, Kate agrees to the marriage, planning to be married to Dix for a year, give him a child, then return to Chicago and continue her journalism career. The pact made, Katherine and Dix head for Dix's home in Oklahoma to set up a new life for themselves.

Despite the fact that I initially thought that Katherine gave into Dix's demands to marry him too easily, I found her to be a spirited and dynamic heroine. She was strong and independent, but maintained her warmth and femininity. I loved her wit and sense of humor and the verbal interplay between Katherine and Dix was full of sass and sparks. There were many times I chuckled and others where I laughed out loud at the dialogue.

Dix was Katherine's match in every way. He was tough, determined and every inch the macho US Marshal. But he had an amazing respect for Katherine and her wants and needs to be more than just a wife and mother and continually supported her dreams, even if they conflicted with his own. Katherine and Dix's romance was truly wonderful and watching them fall in love was a pleasure. They didn't just love one another, they respected and liked one another and had one of the best relationships I've read in romances.

I also enjoyed learning about the history and accomplishments of many Blacks following the Civil War, details that are little known to today's society, though sometimes the narrative came across as a text book as the facts were awkwardly woven into the prose and dialogue.

But, Topaz started to crumble about halfway through and by the end was a complete and unfortunately ridiculous mess. The problems stem from the fact that the book doesn't have a strong plot that carries the characters through the story. Instead, they get involved in a series of situations. Dix and Katherine travel with mail order brides. Dix and Katherine deal with a pair of bumbling crooks. Dix and Katherine get involved in the fight for women's rights. Dix and Katherine pursue a group of escaped convicts. And while the situations are interesting, especially the battle for women's rights episode, they don't hold together very well as a cohesive story.

But what was most disturbing and what made me want to stop reading altogether, were the events of the last 50 pages. There, the author did attempt to tie the various story strands together, but in my mind failed miserably. She made some story choices that I found pointless and unnecessary. There is a tragedy that takes place that was supposed to be moving and meaningful, but the situation comes and goes so quickly that I felt nothing. Furthermore, the resolution to the problem that occurs towards the end of the novel was rushed, unbelievable and contrived.

The author spends a lot of time lazily telling how Dix and Katherine fell in love and moved them leisurely through the numerous subplots, then tried to wrap it all up in a few rushed, hurried and awkwardly written pages. Lastly, I felt there were too many sex scenes in the novel. The relationship between Dix and Katherine was full of passion and the scenes were sensual and well written, but there were so many, they ultimately came to feel like padding.

In the end though, despite all the problems, I'm glad I read this novel. It features a strong hero and heroine both portrayed with warmth, depth and humor and Ms. Jenkins certainly knows how create engaging characters that you care about - the plotting just needs some work. I know that she has written other novels and I will be on the lookout for them. Hopefully they will give great characters and a good, cohesive, realistic story. That would catapult her to keeper status with ease.


Reviewed by Anthony Langford
Grade : C

Sensuality: Hot

Review Date : July 29, 1999

Publication Date: 1997

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