by Joan Avery, historical (2003)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5145-1
This Western romance starts with our hero Edward "Sage" Duross and heroine Kathleen Callahan handcuffed together and fleeing from the law. She's mistaken for Squirrel Tooth, a notorious female bank robber while he is wanted by the law for murder. They escape together, later separate, but will meet up again because Kathleen just keeps getting into trouble. She wants to find her almost-husband who left her at the altar while he is on the usual vengeance trip all Western heroes tend to embark on in their free time.
If one can overlook the fact that Kathleen is a barely functional heroine, the hero isn't bad. He's a stereotype, but he's also a nice guy with protective instincts and nicely tortured enough to give his gallantry a nice edge. A plus is the fact that he is fond of his dead wife and not only has he been celibate since her death, he is also a man who respects women and treat them very nicely, from soiled doves to proper ladies. Except for Kathleen, whom he has a few choice insults for, but I don't blame him. That woman is a walking disaster magnet.
I don't know why the author thinks that the heroine's non-stop Calamity Barbie actions will appeal to her readers, but Kathleen is so stupid that I feel really sorry for her. I'd chip in to the Put This Barbie Down fund if there's one. Nobody this stupid deserves to suffer by living a life of such calamitous magnitude. She comes out all the way here just to confront her boyfriend and his mistress and demand her money back - wasting her already depleted funds to do so - and if that isn't a stupid plan in itself, she soon proves that she has no idea how to track those two intrepid cons down apart from pestering annoyed station masters and ticket sellers. When she and Sage are in trouble, she just won't shut up. I'm serious - she just keeps screaming or shrieking even when the hero is urging her to Shut The Fork Up because the villains will then hear and discover their hiding place. There's one amazing scene where she wanders off alone from the hero to steal some food only to shriek for no reason when she's this close to stealing the grub. Then there's one scene where, separated from the hero, she pawns her wedding ring - the last of her possessions of any value - for twenty dollars and then loses forty in a poker game. And I can go on and on. If not for the hero just happening to be around to save her, Kathleen will be dead and the world will be a better place for it.
This book is a mixed bag. The hero is a sympathetic figure, and I like him if only for the fact that he is a really good man for not hitting that constantly shrill and inept Kathleen unconscious with the butt of his gun and leaving her there in the wilderness to rot. He has a quest, but Kathleen is like a white shrewish albatross around his neck. There are some nicely written scenes of comfort, but these scenes only happen because a snake bites that stupid woman and she screams that she is going to die or because of something equally stupid. All in all, anything good about this book is canceled out by a non-functional heroine and a plot that seems to take delight in getting the heroine in hot water from start to end. Reading The Wild Irish West is pure torture - the stupid keeps coming and it just won't stop.
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