Cooper’s Wife by Jillian Hart
(Harlequin Hist. #485, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29085-3
The prologue of Cooper’s Wife was action packed and I settled in thinking I’d found a good one. But it wasn’t long before inconsistencies in plotting, choppy writing and Aw shucks, ma’am dialogue quickly changed my mind.

It’s 1864 in the Montana Territory and mail order bride Anna Bauer is preparing to journey to Flint Creek to meet her prospective groom, Sheriff Cooper Braddock. Their union is a marriage of convenience. He will provide a home for Anna and her illegitimate daughter Mandy, and she will become a mother to Cooper’s daughters, Katie and Maisie.

While in the bank withdrawing her life savings, Anna and Mandy are caught in the middle of a robbery. When Anna makes eye contact with one of the masked men she realizes he is the town sheriff, Dalton Jennings. She knows that he is aware she has recognized him and is now a threat to him. Anna and Mandy flee for their lives under cover of darkness.

During their escape, the stagecoach in which they are riding is ambushed by another group of robbers. Cooper and his deputies arrive in time to stop the robbery, but gunshots spook the horses and they take off, causing the coach to careen over the side of a cliff with Mandy trapped inside.

Cooper rescues Mandy and arranges medical care for the seriously injured little girl and a place to stay for her mother. Anna finds it strange that after learning their identity he never mentions their correspondence. It doesn’t take long for Anna to discover the reason for Cooper’s silence. His daughter, Katie, was her correspondent. Cooper has no desire for a mail order bride.

Once he discovers what his daughter has done, Cooper feels responsible to help the now destitute Anna, but he refuses to marry. His previous wife ran off, abandoning their daughters and Cooper has never recovered from her betrayal. So he hires Anna as his housekeeper.

My overall impression when finishing the book was confusion. Scenes are written in a manner that is difficult to follow. I had to re-read passages several times in order to understand who was doing what and why. Details of daily life are included that do not advance the plot and seem to be simply filler.

But the biggest problem with Cooper’s Wife is in the short, choppy sentence construction. It reads the way people speak while jogging, causing the reader a sensation not unlike hyperventilating.

Most importantly, I felt no connection to the characters. When I read the final page and closed the cover, it was with no happy tear, or sigh or sense of leaving good friends. I felt nothing at all. For me, that’s reason enough not to recommend Cooper’s Wife.

--Karen Lynch

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