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Defiant by Millie Criswell
(Warner, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-60498-4
***
The last book in Ms. Criswell's Lawman Trilogy, Defiant, stands on its own. If you haven't read the previous books in this series you will still be able to understand the story line. Although I have a few minor quibbles with some legal facts in this tale, I did enjoy the convincing small-town atmosphere the author creates for this story.

In 1875, Travis Bodine broke his engagement to his childhood sweetheart, Hannah Louise Barkley, because she wanted to be a lawyer, like Travis and her father, Judge Barkley. Brokenhearted, Hannah leaves Misery, Texas, to attend classes at the Hastings School of Law in San Francisco. Graduating with honors, she heads to New York City, where she handles many criminal cases.

Now, five years later, she is back in Misery to take care of her ailing father. During the past five years, Travis has been practicing civil law and doing his best to get over Hannah. When Hannah re-enters his life, Travis and his family are in the midst of a crisis. Travis' older brother, Rafe, is in jail for killing three men who were responsible for murdering his first wife.

The Bodine family expects Travis to prove that Rafe was justified in his actions and to convince the jury to acquit Rafe of the murder charges, but Travis is inexperienced in handling criminal matters and isn't sure he can do the job. So when Hannah offers to help him with Rafe's case, Travis puts aside his resentment and pride and accepts her assistance.

Working together stirs up old feelings and desires and in a small town like Misery, people notice. As Hannah and Travis work together to ensure that Rafe is acquitted, they realize they must come to terms with each other by reconciling their past and discovering whether or not they have a future.

Ms. Criswell handles the legal niceties in Defiant with a reasonably competent hand. As Hannah's father notes: "A woman lawyer in this day and age is nothing short of a goddamn miracle." That's certainly true. Just to set the historical record straight, however, the Hastings School of Law did not admit women until 1879; the first woman graduated in 1882 (with honors!).

Therefore, 1875 would have been a little too early for Hannah to attend Hastings, although there were other law schools that admitted women during that year. It was just a few years later that Clara Foltz's courageous attempts to break the gender barriers in San Francisco became a source of history and inspiration for women in the legal profession.

Another small quibble: it is difficult to believe that Travis, as a small-town lawyer circa 1880, would be able to specialize in civil matters. I would have expected him to handle both criminal and civil cases.

Considering the number of characters in Defiant, I thought the author did a remarkable job keeping track of everyone. And, I liked the way she brought the Bodine family together and gave them an interesting subplot regarding the pregnancy of the stepmother.

I must admit, however, I wish that the author had spent a little more time on Hannah's parents and their story. Hannah's parents were separated for ten years; it didn't make sense for them to pick up where they left off without some kind of confrontation. And I would have enjoyed that confrontation.

Also, I felt that Judge Barkley's illness was a little too accommodating. He's so ill he gives up presiding over cases in Misery; he's so ill that Hannah drops her career in New York City to come rushing to his side. Yet he recovers almost immediately when she arrives, which gives Hannah the opportunity to help Travis. The implication that Judge Barkley is not ill but merely lonely doesn't jive with the description of his no-nonsense character.

There's no doubt that the strengths of Defiant are the sense of family and community Ms. Criswell brings to this story, including lots of interesting characters and local color. Also, the author nicely portrays the undercurrents of family life and small-town life. It's this combination that makes Defiant a pleasant read.

--Judith Flavell


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