Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29859-4
Historical Romance, 2015
Morrow Creek Marshal contains references to events in previous related books, and the plot here is directly related to the corrupt lawmen in Marrow Creek getting ousted from their positions in a “Previously on…” moment. I am not too familiar with those events myself, but I can follow this one pretty well, so I suppose this story can stand alone quite well.
Dylan Coyle fancies himself a drifter, but in this story, he finds himself elevated to become the new stand-in lawman of Morrow Creek. This is a very bad thing if you ask our heroine Merielle Miller, who harbors an outright dislike (tampered by feverish desires, of course) for him due to him being what she considers a no-good drifter. Also, he starts a brawl when the story opens, when he tries to rescue our dancing girl heroine from a persistent guest, and she blames him for the whole mess. Apparently she wouldn’t have tumbled from stage and get manhandled by the guest if she wasn’t distracted by the sight of him, so yes, it’s all his fault and she will hate him. Forever! It’s love between the two of them, of course.
You know, I’ve wished in the past for authors to have a bit more sense of awareness about their characters’ tomfoolery, and you know what they say about getting what you wish for. Morrow Creek Marshal is just the latest of a bunch of books in which the author blatantly lets me know that her characters are dumb-dumb… only to have the characters continue to be dumb-dumb until the grand epiphany, when the characters realize what big dumbasses they have been all this while. I don’t know about anyone else, but stupid characters realizing that OH MY GOD THEY ARE SO STUPID does not make for interesting or exciting reading. Stupid people getting butchered, yes, but alas, that’s not what happens here.
Merielle is living on hyperbole, and the author acknowledges that – she even uses the word “hyperbole” – but our heroine is allowed to behave like a shrewish, judgmental screech-face who spends way too much time making all kinds of unfounded and unsubstantiated accusations on Dylan’s morals. Sure, he does say that he intends to leave town soon, and it makes sense that she may have preferred to have a new lawman who intends to stay longer to maintain the peace, but Merielle’s antics are also fueled by petty “always blame him for her own nonsense” drama and eye-rolling prejudice. The poor darling comes off as petulant, immature, and whiny. The author tries to tell me that Dylan adores Merielle because she is so kind, selfless, and giving, but that’s just telling. What I see, instead, is a crazy bad-tempered dingbat stomping her foot and making a fuss like a ten-year old being told by her parents that she can’t have that shiny new toy on sale in the store.
Oh, and Merielle also likes to blame herself for a lot of things, such as her brother getting tangled up with the bad guys, but she spends more time whining about how everything is her fault as opposed to trying to do something about it. Oh, and she also dislikes asking anyone for help, because she’s so independent and sassy that way. Given that she is only talented in complaining and whining, it is probably not shocking to discover that she’s quite hopeless in sorting out her messes on her own.
Compared to Merielle, Dylan isn’t that bad, but his instinctive reaction to stressful situations is to blame himself and whine about this afterward. In that aspect, at least, he seems well-paired with Merielle – their life together would be a glorious marathon of passive-aggressive silent treatments or unreasonable accusations; all noise and recriminations but with nobody actually talking to the other person. Dylan also loves to run away from his problems, especially at penultimate moments, often for everyone else’s own good. Of course, he makes this judgment call on his own. Nobody ever asks the people he is ditching whether they feel that their lives would better for it, because that would take all the joy out of one’s delusions of martyrdom.
To conclude, Morrow Creek Marshal is a story in which the characters often make the worst possible decisions at the most inconvenient moments to prolong conflict. The author is a little too obvious about this, and she also makes the heroine look like a shrewish hag and the hero a whiner who ultimately can’t cut it when he has to walk the walk. The pay-off is the heroine finally admitting that she has been a stubborn, thoughtless fool – it’s like being forced to eat a horrible meal only to have the chef show up just before dessert to announce that he is a crappy cook. What’s the satisfaction in that? This story is probably best read by readers who are more patient than me when it comes to this kind of things.