Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 978-1-61922-625-8
Historical Romance, 2015
Sandra Jones’s His Most Wanted has a brothel owner and manager as a heroine. Interestingly enough, Cora Reilly doesn’t act like a guilt-ridden dingbat over her profession, she isn’t a virgin, and the prostitutes, while well-cared for by Cora, are not the cartoon happy-ho sorts that one would normally find in such romances. I like this. Unfortunately, the author ends up trying to make the story far more bright and tidy than it should be.
Cora moonlights as the Velvet Grace, said to be a cruel and dangerous killer although she’s actually a righteous vigilante looking out for those who can’t help themselves in Fort McNamara, Arkansas. The arrival of Kit Wainwright, a former brothel-owner who is good with his guns, offers some complications, especially when he’s made the new sheriff shortly upon his arrival. Kit just wants to get back his uncle’s ashes from a thief, but Cora is a pleasant diversion – he’d really like to get into the good graces of the madame, let’s just say – and he can’t help getting caught up in all the intrigue revolving around the Velvet Grace.
I frown when the author has Kit so easily catch Cora in the act of slipping out of the house at night, and, to my dismay, the rest of the story quickly enters familiar territory, one in which the hero is always with the upper hand, perhaps to keep to the notion that it isn’t romantic unless the guy is on top. The thing here is that Cora is supposed to be good at the whole Velvet Grace gig, but she thinks and acts like she’s doing the gig for the first time in this story. Cora is always worried, flustered, or taken unawares by Kit, and she can’t even lie convincingly as Kit can always tell when she’s bluffing. Cora is also easily “horrified” by the sounds of gunshot, for example, and she is also quickly shocked by how unfair things can be in the neighborhood – not exactly the kind of personality that I’d expect from someone who is driven to become a vigilante. It’s like having a Bruce Wayne who is constantly taken aback by how mean the world can be – Cora should have been more cynical and even jaded. The disconnect between what Cora is said to be and what she is in this story becomes increasingly wider apart as I turn the page, and the whole discrepancy becomes distracting.
Still, she is pretty competent when she is allowed to do her thing – the author is very careful to ensure that Kit always get the spotlight when it comes to brainpower and gunpowder – and she doesn’t act like an imbecile for all the inconsistencies between what she is purported to be and what she turns out to be. Kit is a nice guy – he’s the guy who would give a dazzling smile as he presses you to get into bed with him in the same ease that he’d apply to shooting someone dead, and I like that. On the other hand, the mystery elements are nothing too unexpected, but they are still decent enough to provide the requisite action-packed denouement.
I’m also not sure about how everyone is cool with Cora despite her being a brothel boss – really, all the good guys here, including the women, have no problems with her and her girls. The women whose husbands patronize the brothel even claim that the fault lies with those men. While I’m all for giving love and respect for the working girls, I’m not sure how realistic this is for a story set in those days in such a setting.
At any rate, His Most Wanted isn’t a bad read at all, but it sure looks like the author does her best to make her story feel as inauthentic as possible. Everything feels a little too neat, goody-goody, and nice at the end of the day.