Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7434-6997-5
Historical Romance, 2007
Ana Leigh continues her name family series for Pocket, The Frasers, with His Boots under Her Bed. The thing about this book, though, is that on paper this is a candidate for the bargain book bin due to its exaggerated and hokey elements that come straight out of a dime cowboy novel. However, when I look at it as a hokey dime cowboy novel, and therefore all those ridiculous non-stop conflicts and dangers and more come with the territory, this book actually becomes quite entertaining. No, I’m not drinking, although drinking is always an option when it comes to enjoying hokey and campy stories.
The story is simple, actually. Garth Fraser spends his life looking for a mine that is indicated in his Uncle Henry’s map. Thanks to some run-in with the lowlives of Buckman, California, he ends up under the care of barroom dancer Rory O’Grady whose hobby appears to be protesting to random strangers that she’s not a whore and her father’s doormat. When Paddy O’Grady steals Garth’s map during Garth’s recuperation and disappears, Garth and Rory team up to track the man down. However, Paddy won’t leave until he finds the mine and therefore all three characters are going to be stuck together for a little while longer. Naturally, all kinds of physical dangers and elemental hazards plague the threesome even as bad people who are also looking for Uncle Henry’s mine draw closer.
Garth is a rare hero in the sense that he has zero emotional baggage. He’s a happy-go-lucky fellow who’s easy with the fast ladies and free with his laughter. Perhaps surprisingly, he’s the most emotionally stable and mature character among all three main characters in this story, even learning a few lessons about life in this story. I like how he recognizes Paddy at once as one of the worst fathers in the world, one he won’t wish even on his most bitter enemy. Indeed, Paddy is a terrible person, often being so selfish and even when he’s trying to be noble on lucid moments, his nobility comes off as self-serving. For example, if Paddy is so worried about his daughter’s reputation, why let her dance in an establishment of ill-repute?
Paddy ends up being a conflict between Garth and Rory who insists on being a doormat for her father even as Garth points out that Paddy is a stupid fool who will drag her down with him. Then again, Rory is a classic dime novel heroine. She’s not the smartest person one would encounter in a romance novel and she is also a typical damsel-in-distress needing to be rescued now and then. At first, every other thing Rory says or does in this story is designed to create more complications. She picks up the slack when Paddy is having a rare moment of lucidity so that poor Garth has his hands full dealing with both father and daughter in this story. Therefore, on paper Rory can be exasperating heroine even vultures will find unpalatable for a nibble should they come across her rotting carcass in a gorge. However, since this story is a hokey dime novel thing, Rory comes with the territory so she’s now a source of unintentional comedy like the rest of campy elements in this story. Later in the story, however, Garth’s sensibility must have rubbed off on Rory because she starts becoming a little more sensible and more aware of things. In fact, I surprise myself when I start to giggle with her instead pointing a finger at her and laughing in a not very nice manner as she begins to make sense even as she realizes that she’s in love.
The dialogues are either too contemporary sounding, with sappy pop-psychology making appearances like this is an episode of Oprah’s talk show, or so exaggerated in cowboy-type machismo that I have to laugh. The villains cackle, the exaggerated dangers and conflicts keep coming, and frankly everything is a hoot. However, the characters are so defiantly apologetic in how hokey and ridiculous they can be, and even better, Garth and Rory actually make sense as the story progresses. Therefore, there is a buoyant sense of exuberance that I feel when I read His Boots under Her Bed.
If you want high art and craft, you’re out of luck here. But if you have the popcorns ready and you just want to sit back and have fun, Ana Leigh has a story to tell you.