Addie & the Laird

 
Mattie and the Blacksmith
by Linda Lea Castle
(Zebra, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6803-4
**
The plot of the Bogus Brides series revolves around three sisters, Adelaide, Charlotte and Matilda Green. The sisters leave their Nebraska home to make new lives for themselves in the charter town McTavish Plain. The only problem is single women are not allowed in McTavish Plain. So, the industrious sisters do what any red-blooded American girls would do. They invent husbands who are absent for one reason or another and plan to become "widows" when the right man comes along. The main problem with creating a series based on such an idea is that it starts out contrived and only gets more so with each successive book.

Mattie is the second sister of the trio, and the town schoolteacher. She, as nearly all romance schoolmarms do, takes a shine to the local troublemaker, six year-old Scout Maravel. Scout's Uncle Roamer, the town blacksmith, is raising the boy and doesn't think he needs a woman's help to do so. Scout disagrees. He wants a Mama, and he's determined to find a wife for his Uncle.

One day, while spying on his teacher, Scout learns that her husband has been lost at sea. Now he has the perfect match for his Uncle, especially since "Mrs. Smith" is in danger of being kicked out of town should town owner Ian McTavish find out she's no longer married. Scout causes enough mischief to make the townspeople, especially Mattie, decide that Roamer must marry, like it or not. He has three months to choose a bride, and Mattie will help him write romantic letters to attract a mail-order bride. The rest of the plot is pretty easy to figure out from this point.

Right from the start, readers know Mattie is a liar, and it doesn't get much better from there. Her first interaction with the hero is a bratty fit in the middle of the street when Mattie thinks Roamer is about to beat Scout. She's so busy stomping her foot like a petulant child and calling Roamer a brute, she never lets him explain what really happened. Needless to say, the scene does nothing to endear Mattie to the reader. When the two eventually get together, Mattie still doesn't tell him the truth, preferring to let Roamer beat himself up for being with another man's wife. Her reason is so noble, she wants to protect her other lying sisters.

Roamer's view of love and marriage is based on his sister's tragic life. Sweet-talked by a gentleman gambler, she winds up beaten to death by the thugs looking to collect on his debts. The only good thing to come out of the union, in Roamer's mind, is Scout. He genuinely cares for the boy, and despite his misogynistic tendencies, is a decent man. In fact, Roamer seems to be the only character who knows how to communicate without lying like a rug.

For example, Mattie's reason for continuing her deception of Roamer is out of fear that Ian will find out. Isn't it just so funny that he already knows since he married her sister Addie? For some unknown reason, probably explained in the first book, Ian doesn't tell anyone, besides Addie, that he knows. When it becomes obvious that Mattie and Roamer have a thing for each other, does he let them off the hook? Nope. Instead he concocts an elaborate plan to get Roamer out of town to choose a wife in hopes of smoking out Mattie. This provides the perfect opportunity for tired, contrived plotline number two. "Laughing Jack" Maravel comes around to kidnap his son Scout so he can claim the inheritance left to the child. Of course Mattie gets caught too, and Roamer must rescue them both.

The entire book is based on a theme of lies and misunderstanding. A reader can't help but get the feeling if all these people would just talk to each other and be honest, life would be a lot easier. Aside from that, the whole attitude of unmarried women being bad for the town makes you wonder why women would want to live in McTavish Plain, married or otherwise. There is still one more sister to go, but I'm not sure how much farther the already thin premise can be stretched.

--Anne Bulin


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