Desert Isle Keeper
You know how sometimes you stumble across an amazing book that keeps you awake all night in order to read it? A book that takes over your life and has you creating free time out of thin air so that you can immerse yourself in it? That’s what I found in Without Words.
Hassie Petty has not had an easy life. At the age of eight an accident rendered her mute, and since then most of the people she meets assume she must be dumb and think that they can walk all over her. She ended up married to Cyrus Petty, an old drunkard at least twice her age, because no one else would take her, and now that Cyrus is dead she’s not sure what to do with her life. She’s just thinking that Cyrus’ no-good son Rufus might help her out a little when a bounty hunter shows up on her property looking for Rufus.
Bret Sterling, bounty hunter and Southern gentleman, did not want to have to kill his target, but the scoundrel kept shooting at him and forced his hand. Now he’s left with a dead body and a mute woman to deal with. As a gentleman, Bret is not comfortable just leaving Hassie to fend for herself out at the farm, so he takes her into town and ultimately on to some friends of his in Missouri where she can stay for a while. While they’re on the road, Bret and Hassie develop a real friendship, one that keeps them bound together even after they make it to Bret’s friends’ place, and ultimately finds them married to each other.
So far, all of the books that I’ve read by Ellen O’Connell have been amazing, and this latest only solidified my opinion of her abilities. Even though much of the dialogue between Bret and Hassie is technically one-sided, Hassie still possesses clear opinions and manages to make herself heard. At the beginning, when she doesn’t even have a slate to write on, this is a difficult thing to do, short of giving the pair a magical psychic connection wherein Bret can hear Hassie’s thoughts. Ms. O’Connell manages by giving Bret a believable sense of empathy. He’s able to put himself in Hassie’s shoes with ease, and although he doesn’t always perfectly guess at what she’s thinking, he understands her well enough that they become friends.
The other lovely thing to see in this book, besides the growing connection between Hassie and Bret, is Hassie’s growing sense of independence. This is naturally a difficult thing for a mute woman to possess in the 1860s, but as Hassie experiences more of the world with Bret, she becomes more confident that she is able to handle what gets thrown at her. With each challenge she meets, she becomes a little more sure of herself and her capabilities.
Looking back on it, I’ve realized this book is a rare find for me. It was good enough that I have no complaints about it, good enough that I stayed up to a ridiculously late hour in order to finish it. Bret and Hassie were great characters, and it was my pleasure to spend time with them. I eagerly await Ellen O’Connell’s next book.