Wyoming Wildflower is Pam Crooks’s debut novel. She shows promise, and this is a good first effort. But it is ultimately a rather uneven read.
Ten years after leaving home to become educated as a lady in Boston, Sonnie Mancuso returns to her father’s ranch. He has had a heart attack, and she hopes both to nurse him and prove to him that she can run the ranch with the veterinary and other skills she has secretly learned. But when she arrives, she realizes that someone else has already taken on the responsibility of the ranch.
Lance Harmon has been Vince Mancuso’s protégé for years and has been fully trained to take care of anything the Mancuso spread requires. Orphaned at age ten, he went West with the orphan trains and Mancuso took him in as the son he never had. Lance has been secretly in love with Sonnie for years, but does not think that she has what it takes to manage the ranch. And to complicate the situation, some shady characters have been squatting on Mancuso land and stealing cattle. It looks like a range war is in the making, and if that is the case, Lance wants to get Sonnie as far away from Wyoming as he can. Boston would be just far enough.
The story moves along at a pretty good clip, and I was engaged and interested until about the three-quarters mark. Sonnie and Lance are both sympathetic characters and rather alike in both their loneliness and need to belong. Crooks writes well, and I enjoyed the way she brought both of her main characters into awareness of each other.
But toward the three-quarters mark when the action of the story is really gearing up, I lost interest. The villains became more and more one-dimensional. Their behavior also become predictable, but in that odd “Heh, heh, heh, I’ll get you, my pretty,” way. In other words, they behaved as villains in romance novels do, but not as people do in real life.
Additionally, Lance and Sonnie do not behave with anything near the requisite modesty and propriety the period requires. Unmarried, they fondle each other in public and take a room together at a hotel, and amazingly, no one seems to be shocked by their behavior. All they get are nods and smiles from their friends and neighbors. I realize this is the frontier, but this is also the Victorian era and this kind of sexual openness would not have been allowed. Finally, for a woman who is desperate to gain her father’s approval, Sonnie acts in a number of very stupid ways. She drinks and plays cards with his cowboys, she fails at the small duties he assigns her, and she spends the night in a hotel with Lance. I can’t imagine how she could think he would be proud of any of these actions.
However, I do think that Pam Crooks has talent. I very much enjoyed the beginning of Wyoming Wildflower. While it has its problems, it is a first novel, and that must be considered. I will keep my eyes open for future titles by this author.