Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 0-7434-2274-0
Historical Romance, 2003
The problem with Shotgun Bride is that Linda Lael Miller doesn’t seem to know whether she wants to write a campy spaghetti Western story filled with stupid people or to deliver a good romance story. It tries to be both, but after so many hammy and silly antics in the first two hundred plus pages, the later half of the story feels as if they found their way into the book by mistake.
The plot… sheesh. It’s a sequel to High Country Bride. Angus McKettrick, in a desperate attempt to reform his three whoring, gambling good-for-nothing sons, announced in the first book that the first son to marry and impregnate his bride will get to inherit Triple M. I had already voiced my disgust at this sexist and insulting plot and I am not going to repeat myself here. Here, Kade McKettrick is the most sensible of the three brothers, which isn’t saying much when I consider the fact that this is a man that has five mail-order-brides camped outside his place waiting for him to marry one of them. Of course, the sturdy one is too plain for him but the pretty one is too fragile for him. I guess that he just wants to marry a porn star with breeding hips. But looking for a bride he can impregnate with the dissolute McKettrick genes is the least of his problems. The neighboring ranch of Circle C is run by their half-brother and this half-brother is doing all he can to make life hell for the idiots at Triple M.
Meanwhile, our heroine Amanda “Mandy” Sperrin is on the run from an abusive stepfather while looking for her missing half-brother Cree. (Does anybody actually get married and then have kids around here?) To disguise herself, she poses as a nun and calls herself Sister Amanda Rose. Won’t she stand out as a nun in a tacky honky-tonky town? It doesn’t matter. The author tells me, in solemn gravity, that our heroine is on the run and she gets a job at the McKettrick place (nobody seems surprised at a nun searching for employment) but uses up all her wages on (a) sending money to the nun whose clothes she pilfered, (b) sending money to a family that was nice to her, and (c) spending everything else on dime novels. So needless to say, she’s always broke. She wants a gun to protect herself, but instead of stealing one or saving up for one, she decides to take part in a race against Kade to win the gun.
What can I say? These two are made for each other.
At first, this book is filled with people behaving bizarre. Mandy is a complete pushover – just mention her mother or blackball her with guilt and she will do anything for you. She’s pathetic already, what with her complete lack of brainpower, and this susceptibility of hers to the most transparent attempts at manipulation makes her come off even more like the village idiot’s more idiotic sister. I really laugh though when the town marshal’s woman elects Kade the temporary substitute marshal because, as she says, the Triple M and Circle C feud can cause trouble and only Kade, apparently the smartest guy in town, can handle this matter in the sheriff’s absence (he’s going on his honeymoon). How… impartial, I guess.
I don’t understand how a family consisting of three whoring and gambling losers and their father and a housemaid that also doubles as this father’s woman can get their “infamous” reputation. The way I see it, the only thing to fear from the McKettrick is the fact that one of them may shoot somebody by accident.
Then, I don’t know how it happened, but at some point around page 210, the book switches tone from a lurid and overwrought dime novel comedy into a more serious romance story. Kade suddenly transforms into a dangerous but protective hero, Mandy miraculously turns into a rather brainy woman that knows how to use a gun, and there is a genuine ring to their relationship from hereon. The dying marshal and his wife’s relationship is poignant and even heartbreaking, and while the story still suffers from cardboard villains, the denouement sees Mandy and Kade really coming alive as they confront issues about themselves and their family. Throughout it all, Ms Miller handles the fast-paced action scenes with a deft hand, drawing me in to enjoy the story despite the hammy and inept villains.
I love the later half of the book as much as I have a good time laughing at the ridiculous first half. So in all fairness, despite the book coming off like two disjointed books glued together, I have a good time reading it, first because the book is a hopelessly silly camp story in the first half and second because the later half is a very good story. Just don’t take it too seriously and be prepared for the book’s Hyde-to-Jekyll transformation, and Shotgun Bride may be worth a chance.