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In His Arms by Robin Lee Hatcher
(Harper, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-06-108689-4
****
If you like Americana, you'll like Robin Lee Hatcher's In His Arms. This tale doesn't contain many surprises, but the writing is very good and the characters are richly drawn. I entered Ms. Hatcher's Whistle Stop, Idaho, and immediately found myself happily immersed in the trials and tribulations of the people who inhabit this small town.

Mary Emeline Malone leaves Ireland with dreams of marrying the father of her unborn child and making a new life for herself in America. But when she arrives in New York, Mary discovers the man she loved lied to her and has wed another. Mary has her baby, but her unwed status gives men the idea that she's fair game for their attentions.

When the wealthy society man she works for tries to force himself on her, Mary defends herself and strikes him with his own silver box. Leaving him for dead, Mary grabs the silver box and her son, Keary, and boards the first train out of town.

During the train ride, Blanche Loraine, a saloon owner from Whistle Creek, Idaho, befriends Mary. Blanche is dying and although her life has included few charitable acts, she finds she truly wants to help Mary and her baby. Blanche asks Mary to come with her to Whistle Stop and work as her bookkeeper; Mary gratefully accepts.

Sheriff Carson Barclay maintains law and order in Whistle Stop; he likes his town peaceful and quiet. Mary Malone is too beautiful for his peace of mind and he doesn't approve of Mary and Keary living in a saloon. For her part, Mary wants nothing to do with the handsome Sheriff, a man she sees as a threat to her chance for a happy life with her son.

I've always said a good writer can make me like a story I normally wouldn't care for. In His Arms is a book that proves my supposition. The basic story line is one I've read many times before. Yet, I liked this book. I liked it a lot.

The author knows how to get readers involved in a story; she makes you care about her characters and their problems, even the minor characters. In fact, Ms. Hatcher's fine cast of secondary characters was so diverting, I barely noticed or cared that the pace of the romance between Mary and the Sheriff was, at times, a little slow.

Many of the characters in this book share a similar desire: to connect with others and to change their lives for the better. The stories for all the characters unfold slowly and carefully; I never lost interest in the myriad of subplots going on in this tale. Simply put, Ms. Hatcher knows how to tell a story and In His Arms is a well crafted and satisfying romance.

--Judith Flavell


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