Harlequin Historical, $5.25, ISBN 0-373-29252-X
Historical Romance, 2003
I have only read one previous book by Sharon Harlow: the now out-of-print Country Kiss, and that book is on my keeper shelf. Despite boasting characters a little on the too-perfect side, that one has the sweetest outcast-drifter hero trying to start life anew who falls in love with the widow who lives next door. The characters of that book are so real and the courtship is so gentle yet romantic that I still reread the book when I need some lovely heartfelt pick-me-up. If you ever wonder what will happen if, say, Road to Avonlea‘s Gus Pike ever met a kinder, gentler Felicity King for the first time when they are grown-ups, do try and search for it in some good used-book-store.
Now, McKinnon’s Bride. The hero Cade McKinnon is almost as good as Luke Northcutt, and he’s also a very nice hero. A little too-good-to-be-true, but who’s complaining? Not me. What happens is that he and his ranch hand man Quint have formulated a plan to thwart evil rustlers. Quint will pretend to have parted from Cade acrimoniously and Quint will then infiltrate the evil rustlers. What these two men do not expect is Quint’s widowed sister, Jessie Monroe, coming into town to turn to her brother for help. Her stereotypical no-good now-dead husband met his end when the town’s mayor caught him in bed with the mayor’s wife and the mayor put his gun to good use. Jessie flees a town that is now hostile to her and her two children. Unfortunately, Quint is not there for her. Cade will have to take her in.
Cade falls in love with her pretty much at first sight. He courts her and befriends her children, in short, he’s like a dream come true. Jessie is a little less fortunate in that while she’s depicted as a sweet and capable heroine, it is hard to believe her hysterical and unreasonable reaction when she learns of the truth between Quint’s “firing” from Cade’s ranch. This silly blow-up late in the book is a very transparent plot contrivance. It’s very difficult to imagine a sensible heroine like Jessie to react in such an exaggerated and ridiculous manner to what is essentially a plot for the greater good.
The evil rustlers subplot is also riddled with contrivances that don’t make sense. The villain is so transparently nasty yet the author expects me to believe that he has the town fooled into believing his integrity all this while.
I really tried hard not to compare this book to Country Kiss. But this book shares many of the strengths of that book – lovely and likable characters finding love and overcoming adversity together – while also containing many obvious plot and character contrivances (that are absent in Country Kiss) that don’t really come together well. The Jessie-Cade blow-up later in the story is the TNT that destroys the author’s characters by making them act bizarrely out-of-character just for the sake of conflict.
McKinnon’s Bride is a perfectly safe, formulaic, and acceptable feel-good escapist Americana. Sharon Harlow has a nice way of creating saintly and likable people without making me worry about my blood sugar level. She creates lovely little escapist fiction starring good and hardworking ordinary people looking for love that they truly deserve. Sometimes, when life gets a little too hectic and the cynicism gets a little too brittle, stories like this one will make the perfect balm to soothe the blues.