Courting Claire
by Linda O'Brien, historical (1999)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80207-4

Poor Claire Cavanaugh. She receives news from her dear housekeeper one day that her beloved father has passed away and their house Bellefleur is about to be auctioned off to pay his debts. With her blind sister Emily, she dashes off home, hoping to find that it's all not true. At the port, Emily has an accident at the docks, and is rescued from drowning by handsome hunk Tyler McCane, owner of Lucky Lady, a gambling den and a rich, wealthy fellow. It's the start of a beautiful relationship amidst nasty bank owners and corrupt sheriffs.

Only that the story often unfolds in a rather awkward manner. Let's see. On Chapter 1, in the grand tradition of bad B-grade movies, we have the bad guy, the bank manager Reginald Boothe, telling his cohort the evil sheriff his entire evil, nasty plans, plus his reasonings behind it (Da Cavanaugh and he chased after the same woman, Da Cavanaugh won), and his future plans. Tell me, is there any more reason for me to be intrigued with the plot after this? At Chapter One! And I'm sure the sheriff should know of Reggie's evil plans, so I guess the tell-all session is for my benefit. That's a bad miscalculation because as a result, my interest goes downhill in proportion with the increasing plodding progress of the story.

Of course, there are some fun secondary characters like 'bad woman' Lulu, but then again, they go nowhere, overshadowed by two rather lackluster lead characters. Claire, especially, is a rather weepy, wimpy woman. She is one of those clingy, fearful woman who can't do anything without trembling with fear, holding back unshed tears, and other womanly antics. There are moments when she fixes a resolution, like Confront Reggie without showing fear, only to lose her composure three minutes into the fun. Kleenex would make a killing from women like Claire. She also can't make up her mind. House's up for auction, but no, she refuses to sell her family jewels! (Dummy) Tyler wants to marry her, but no, she is engaged to a fiance who is conveniently absent and insensitive - she will stand by this loser! Oh, when that loser nicely dumps her for another more - probably - sensible and less weepy woman, she's stumped. Then she allows herself to be courted by the sheriff. Then she decides she wants to marry Tyler, but she won't, because he doesn't love her (she thinks)!

Somebody put her - and me - out of our collective misery.

Then there's Tyler, who's so polite, so kind... so bland. He's so boring and nice and sensitive that he is, as a result, completely devoid of any character apart from being a walking Grad School of Etiquette Certificate. Put a dull hero and a spineless heroine together, and I get totally bored by the whole scheme of things.

Then there's Emily. I don't know what to make of her. She's blind, she's 12, but she is... well, when the plot demands it, she speaks in monosyllables like a five year old. Pages later she's not-too-subtly matchmaking Tyler with Claire, telling him that Claire's fiance is a loser. In this, she uses amazingly big words like hopefully, interested, recommend when previously it's Me! Walk alone! You can't make me! Talk about schizophrenia.

Things spice up a bit towards the end with a murder, but overall, the book is rather boring. But hey, at least the author's improving. Her last book Promised To A Stranger has a heroine so idiotic and a hero even more bland. In that book, the author treated the characterization of hero's brother in a manner so shoddy and careless that it smacks of plot convenience (plus I keep comparing it to that Mrs Winterbourne movie). Courting Claire is a major improvement. Hence while I may not remember this book in a week's time, who knows? I may just fork out another $5.99 when the author's next book comes out.

Rating: 32

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