Knight On The Texas Plains
by Linda Broday
(Leisure, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-5120-6
***
Duel McClain was a bounty hunter running from his past when he won an unexpected pot in a poker game - a baby girl! Sure as shootin’ Marley Rose could do a sight better than the nasty father who so callously tossed her aside - but Duel doesn’t know anything about kids. The death of his first wife has pretty much left him empty inside. Still he’s determined to do right by the tyke, so he decides to take little Marley home to Tranquility, Texas. Surely his sister and brother-in-law will take her in.

Duel doesn’t get very far though. While bedding down for the night, a woman covered in blood wanders into his camp. Jessie Foltry has suffered through years of unspeakable abuse at the hands of her husband. Driven to the brink, and presented with an opportunity, she shoots the man dead, and grabs the nearest horse. Delirious, scared out of her mind, she’s naturally wary of Duel. However, he promises not to harm her, and even vows to protect the condemned woman.

What follows upon their return to Tranquility is a marriage of convenience and the never-ending fear that their time is limited. After all, Jessie’s guilty of murdering her husband, and Duel’s own brother, a Texas Ranger, has been assigned to round her up.

Jessie has survived some truly awful abuse. While this violence takes place firmly off stage, these events are recounted. A final revelation about the extent of the abuse in the last few chapters is heart-wrenching stuff. Duel is a haunted man who feels responsible for the death of his first wife and their infant son. He’s a rare breed among western heroes - a Mr. Nice Guy who truly wants to do the right thing.

The story is mostly plot driven, the main conflict being that Jessie is a wanted woman. I found that given the couples’ respective pasts that I was eager for more character driven introspection. The author chooses instead to jump ahead to their arrival in Tranquility shortly after the couple decides to travel together, leaving out all kinds of internal struggles to be fleshed out on the trail. And while Jessie has the occasional flashback, she seems amazingly well adjusted for all that she’s gone through. Likewise, she comes to trust Duel a little too quickly for my liking.

The secondary plots are a mixed bag as well. The introduction of a town flirt with his eye on Jessie seemed a tad unnecessary. However, I did find the subplot involving lawman Luke McClain to be rather clever. The brother in love against the brother bound by duty made for an interesting mix.

The folksy writing style may turn off some (tarnation, dad-burned etc.), but Broday has an easy writing style and culminates everything nicely into an intriguing climax. Western romances seem to come in two speeds - harsh and gritty or quaint small town - and this debut author tries something different by including both elements in the same story.

While not enough for me to give a wholehearted recommendation, Knight On The Texas Plains shows enough promise that I’ll likely pick up the planned sequel featuring brother Luke. Solid westerns are a bit of a rare bird these days, and it’s nice to see a debut author try her hand in a sub genre that still has plenty of diehard fans. It will be interesting to see where Broday goes from here, and what she has in store for Luke McClain.

--Wendy Crutcher


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