Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-80248-1
Historical Romance, 1999
In Lori Copeland’s The Bride of Johnny McAllister, Johnny McAllister is a man out to avenge his dead family. He’s been on a one-way track to find the outlaws that are responsible. Now, I groan at the start of the story – not another lone wolf and poor innocent town girl story. As it is, it is such a story. But no matter. Anyway, Johnny gets falsely accused for bank robbery one day (he was trying to save a girl from these robbers, and that silly girl accuses him to be one of them). The judge senses that he isn’t who the courts make him to be, however, so he sentenced him to a one to two year probational period under the eyes of one Judge McMann in Barren Flats. Johnny goes there, fully intending to keep quiet, do his undoubtedly time of hard farm labor quietly, then scram with his pistols to go scum-hunting at the earliest possibility. Of course, he never counted on sweet Ragan McMann to make him all twisted up inside.
Now, I wonder why a judge would send a convicted bank robber to live with an old man and his only daughter. In a town where outlaws trundle by with the frequency of a subway train passing its station. It is to Ms Copeland’s credit that she doesn’t make these outlaws the same ones Johnny is looking for. Now that would be pushing my credulity too far.
Despite its rather shaky foundation, this story shines. I love Johnny. The author depicts his past so brutally and as-a-matter-of-factedly, a totally horrifying contrast to the overall sweetness permeating the story, that I emphatize with Johnny’s hatred for these evil murderers and his need of vengeance. Johnny takes a long time to see that he needs Ragan and the town of Barren Flats more than revenge to save his soul, but I never feel the need to pull out my trusty frying pan for a free-for-all session. No, like a not-too-subtle parallel to the town Barren Flats eventually getting renamed to Paradise, Johnny’s redemption from the path of vengeance is a joy to read. His cynicism at the overall too-good-to-be-true people of Barren Flats and his eventual attachment to them are what makes this book worth rereading.
Having said that, I feel like Johnny at the start of the book – I’m cynical about Barren Flats. Unlike Johnny, I can’t shake off the feeling. Judge McMann and Ragan treat Johnny, a man they have no reason to suspect to be innocent, like an esteemed guest. Johnny can run out through the window any time he feels like it, and he knows it. Why would the McManns go this easy on the man they are supposed to reform? Kindness is one thing, but this is really going the other end of the extreme. And why would Judge agree to take in these sort of criminals when he’s the only one around to protect Ragan? Aren’t the outlaws a threat enough?
And as for Ragan, the fact that she can be attracted to Johnny, knowing he’s a convicted bank robber-kidnapper, speaks volumes of her naivety. But that’s the start of the book, so maybe she will grow out of it. She does, but barely. She and the townspeople are quick to forget that Johnny is on parole, and soon even the little kiddies are cajoling him for stories.
I think this is totally unbelievable. Have the folks of Barren Flats an ability to read people’s hearts? That’s the only reason I can come up with for such unreserved, generous kindness to a parolee living among them. Maybe they realize they need a sheriff, and Johnny’s the only one with the guns to do that job.
I’m ashamed. I’m too cynical! I can’t even read such sweet inspirational romance without doubting!
However, Ragan and Johnny’s relationship is wonderful. Ragan is a kind, gentle woman – almost one-dimensionally so – that her love for Johnny shines bright like a comforting lamplight in darkness. I would feel like a lowest of the low to think of her in a bad light, in fact I can’t. Much. She’s what Johnny needs.
This book is sweet, warm, and a comfort read. If I can get rid of my cynicism at the overall Pleasantville-feel of the book, I’d find this book a keeper. But for the life of me, I can’t. Hence, the book as a rather surreal quality to it. Sweet, nice, warm… and totally unbelievable.