McKenna's Bride

Rachel's Choice

Morganís Woman
by Judith E. French
(Ballantine, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-345-40875-6
Through gambling and bad investments, Tamsin McGreggorís late husband lost all but two horses of her substantial inheritance from her grandfather. Determined to make a fresh start by establishing a horse-breeding business in California, Tamsin travels west from Tennessee with her two thoroughbreds

In April 1866, in Sweetwater, Colorado, her horses are stolen from the livery stable. The local sheriff is no help, so Tamsin does a little investigating herself. She locates them on a ranch outside of town where she witnesses rancher Sam Steele accusing Henry Steele, his brother and the townís judge, of having an affair with Samís wife Sarah. When she returns to the ranch that night to steal her horses back again, she finds the rancherís still-warm, dead body. Henry Steele appears and they accuse each other of the murder. The judge promises that she will hang for the crime. Tamsin flees into the night with her horses.

Bounty hunter Ash Morgan has been trailing Tamsin because he believes her to be Texas Jack Cannonís woman. Cannon had raped and murdered Ashís pregnant wife. Tamsin had left Jack shortly before he and his gang held up a bank, but Ash thinks that Jack will show up to claim her soon. Henry Steele hires Ash to bring Tamsin in to be tried for his brotherís murder.

Ash soon takes Tamsin prisoner. For the next 200-plus pages, the two battle cougars, hostile Indians, a rock slide, bad guys, frontier justice, and each other.

There is ample conflict between the two main characters in Morganís Woman. Ash is determined to take her back to Sweetwater even though he has doubts that sheíll get a fair trial, and Tamsin is insistent that she didnít murder Sam Steele and that he should let her go. Additional conflicts are their internal battles to resist the sexual attraction between them and all the life-threatening perils they face -- the book would seem to absolutely teem with conflict. In fact, thereís a tepid, formulaic feel to it. Rather than heart-stopping tension, the excess of succeeding crises only dulls the overall impact. The depiction of the first catastrophe, the theft of Tamsinís horses, is more vivid than any of the following ones. The story doesnít pick up speed again until the final fifty pages.

There are several viable candidates for the role of Samís murderer, yet the whodunit is of very minor importance in the story. The narrativeís focus remains primarily on Ash and Tamsin. The story supplies ample background information about the Ash and Tamsin. Readers who have missed personal details of characters in other books will not feel that loss in this one. Nevertheless, Ash and Tamsin never really come alive; they remain largely one-dimensional throughout.

Similarly, their romance remains largely one-dimensional. At one point in the story, Tamsin figures that because sheís a widow, she doesnít have anything to lose by going to bed with Ash. She doesnít have to let anyone else know, and if she gets pregnant, she can pass it off as her late husbandís child. Not exactly the most romantic attitude for a heroine to have. Furthermore, readers who find TSTL (too-stupid-to-live) heroines annoying may question Tamsinís judgment in setting out on a solo, cross-country trip with her horses in the period immediately following the Civil War -- across the plains during the winter months.

Other books besides Morganís Woman have featured the bounty-hunter-fugitive plot. Lacking truly dynamic characters, there is little to distinguish this version from the others.

--Lesley Dunlap

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