Texas Indigo by Holly Harte
(Zebra, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6261-3
***
Writing an intergenerational trilogy presents certain pitfalls which I suspect Holly Harte has encountered in this, the third novel in her “Healing Women” series. While I have not read the first two books, I can easily imagine that their settings and plots were much more compelling than those in Texas Indigo. The story of a Native American wise woman and a rancher in Texas in the 1840s or the tale of their daughter and an army doctor who has lost his calling in the 1860s have an intrinsic interest. Somehow, by the time we get to the granddaughter’s story in 1899, a romance between a female physician and a mine manager who doesn’t like lady doctors seems somehow tame.

Sheridan Kinmont inherited her parents’ love of and skill in healing. But by the 1890s, the world had changed. Sheridan was able to go east to Baltimore to study at Johns Hopkins Medical School at a time when women doctors were not nearly so rare as they were a half century later. Now, at age 28, she has come home to Texas to take the position of company doctor for the Presidio Mining Company in Shafter, Texas.

Sheridan hadn’t planned to return to Texas at all. She had married the scion of a prominent Baltimore family and had expected to stay in the east. But her husband, who had been so supportive of her career and of her commitment to the suffrage cause while they were courting, had turned into a domestic tyrant after they had married. So she divorced him, and, accompanied by her faithful (and also divorced) nurse, Poppy, took the position in Texas.

Shay Bannigan is the manager of the Shafter mine. A native of San Francisco, he hates everything about west Texas and just wants to get out. His constant pleas for a transfer have gone unheeded. Now, he has to contend with a woman doctor and he has a deep seated distrust of the breed. He blames his sister’s death on the incompetence and emotionalism of another lady doctor.

Shay sets out to prove that Sheridan is incompetent, which, of course, brings him frequently into her company. Instead, he finds her to be a very good doctor and a very attractive woman. Sparks fly between the two which leads to something more. But neither has any thought of marriage. Shay has always loved the ladies but shied away from commitment. Sheridan has been badly burned once and is twice shy.

Much of the subplot of the book has to do with domestic violence. Poppy had been the victim of an abusing husband. When the local storekeeper falls hard for the mature and attractive nurse, she has a lot of baggage to overcome. In addition, Sheridan befriends the wife of one of the miners who is clearly being victimized by her spouse. Shay and Sheridan clash over whether the doctor should intervene in an employee’s private life.

The situation comes to a head over a robbery which leaves a Mexican boy whom Sheridan has befriended wounded. Sheridan realizes exactly how eager Shay had been to deprive her of her post.

There is nothing particularly unusual about the plot or the characters in Texas Indigo, nothing to set the book apart. Harte does a good job of portraying life in a Texas mining community, but the setting is not especially romantic or compelling. Sheridan and Shay are nice enough characters and their romance is nice enough, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. I actually liked the secondary romance more.

Harte’s writing lacks the spark which might have made the book a more enjoyable read and her dialogue often seems stilted. The heavy emphasis on the domestic violence issue sometimes detracted from the story.

Readers who have followed the trilogy may want to read Texas Indigo to meet the characters from the other books once again. But for other readers, this is at best merely an acceptable western romance.

--Jean Mason


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