I'll probably have to take it on the chin from readers who disagree with the
following review. There will doubtless be numerous romance aficionados who will
find this tale of recaptured love charming, or enchanting, or homespun, or one of a thousand adjectives that can be liberally applied when the spirit is willing.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of this reviewer, the best word to describe
Sweeter than Sin is "bland."
The problem starts at the beginning when young Kate Remington (barely 16 years
old) has sex with her step-brother Jude but fantasizes throughout the event that
she is making love with her other step-brother, Charles. He's the one she loves,
but Charles is engaged to marry a Boston Brahmin and Kate is…upset. Actually,
she's so upset that following her tryst with Jude she runs away from home.
Six years later Charles discovers what really happened the night Kate disappeared.
The family fortune rests on the existence of a true Remington heir, and since
Charles never married and Jude is a drunken wastrel who has lost the productive
use of his nether regions, that leaves Kate as the only possible source of a scion.
Some sleuthing reveals that she is alive and well and living in Wooden Nickel,
Wyoming. Charles catches the first train west.
Once in Wooden Nickel Charles discovers that Kate McGoldrick is the widow of
the town's late incendiary newspaperman and that she has been continuing her
husband's legacy of stirring up trouble between the cattlemen who rule the area
and some newly arrived sheep farmers. The debts are piling up, so Charles
becomes an anonymous benefactor, infusing the paper (and Kate) with enough
cash to keep going. When Kate finally does get a look at her long lost "brother"
that old feeling comes back full force. Charles takes one look at Kate's son and
Kate is both thrilled and scared that Charles has re-entered her life. While she has difficulty repressing the amorous feelings that resurface, she also fears that
Charles will take her son Walter back East – even though Charles has never
informed her of Walter's status as the Remington family heir. What's more, she is
bound and determined to avenge her husband's death at the hands of the area
cattlemen determined to send the sheep farmers packing. In fact, Kate is so single minded that she doesn't seem to care who her crusade will hurt.
She also acts quite illogically when it comes to the money keeping her paper afloat.
She practically throws the cash back in Charles' face when she discovers he is her
mysterious benefactor, but she willingly compromises her "standards" for a monthly
stipend from the Union Pacific railroad for travel-inducing newspaper pieces which
paint a rosy glow of Wooden Nickel. When the railroad objects to the inflammatory articles and threatens to cut her off, Kate is forced to turn to Charles for help.
By this point, the reader could care less what happens to either of the characters.
Both are bound and determined to keep secrets from each other and then act
affronted when the truth is revealed. There is no surer way for an author to
distance a reader from her characters than to pull this kind of gimmick. Invariably
the characters come across as selfish and often, just plain stupid.
Garland doesn't let the "big misunderstanding" run away with the plot, but I'm hard pressed to think anything could get the best of these two. Charles is so tried and
true as to be absolutely boring in his perfection. Kate, despite all she has been
through, is very immature. What's more, the reader can't help but wonder at the
strength of their devotion. The author gives only very brief glimpses into their
childhood affection, doing little to explain the depth of their feelings for each other.
Unlike the truly great romances where the reader becomes one with the characters,
in Sweeter than Sin, the reader is told about this magnificent love, but never
experiences it. There is no spark whatsoever between these two.