by Brenda Williamson, historical (2006)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-161-0
The Devil's Kiss features a rare Western heroine: Tessa Jane "TJ" Creager is a bounty hunter by day and seductive gambling lady by night. She's good at what she does too, although she prefers to bring in criminals and outlaws alive. She avoids going after those marked as wanted dead or alive because these criminals attract bounty hunters who often behave no better than those criminals. However, she may have to make an exception when she realizes that one of these criminals is the man she has been hunting for all this while for killing her sister. US Marshal Jack McCay is also looking for the same man so it's to be expected that they are going to be seeing a lot of each other.
This could have been a pretty standard Western story were not for the refreshing heroine and the way Ms Williamson for the most part allows TJ to remain in character. Some readers may be disappointed - I know I am - that ultimately the hero gets to do all the bang-bang-bang stuff where the bad guy is concerned and there is a rather tedious insistence on TJ's part to keep Jack at arm's length but TJ is nonetheless capable and level-headed when she needs to take care of herself.
On the whole, I enjoy this Western tale because it feels like a familiar tale given a refreshing spin by the author. However, I find the hero to have what seems like a split personality in this story. At the start, Jack comes on so strong to TJ that he crosses the line to outright creep and I can't imagine how the author is going to make me warm to him without having Jack getting kicked by a horse. Jack is really over-the-top smarmy here, treating TJ as if she has to sleep with him and getting very touchy-feely in an unpleasant manner. However, somehow by the end of the story that 1970s bodice-ripper jerk hero has morphed into a completely different person. He's now a most appealing hero who receives a tarnished kind of nobility from being in love and wanting to move mountains for the heroine. I don't know if love is that powerful to effect a complete personality transplant, though.
The hero aside, Devil's Kiss is a most entertaining romp with a refreshingly different kind of heroine. Ms Williamson tackles her plot with a maturity that I appreciate. Even if some of the characters' actions and thoughts could be too much like contemporary pop psychology, I feel that on the whole Ms Williamson has pulled off a job pretty well done in creating a well-paced, entertaining, and believable story with a... well, mostly likable and believable cast.
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