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The Runaway Heiress by Stef Ann Holm
(Sonnet, $6.50, PG) ISBN 0-671-77549-9
***
Stef Ann Holm has made a name as an author of humorous Americana romances. While her kind of humor is not exactly to my taste - she likes slapstick, I like subtle - I have found her funny books well, funny. So I was expecting more of the same when I picked up The Runaway Heiress. Maybe I was looking for the wrong thing, because I didn’t find t he book at all humorous. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to, but a reader’s expectations always play an important part in one’s response to a story.

The Runaway Heiress is Evelyn Thurgood-Baron, the daughter of the immensely rich owner of Baron Oil. The year is 1911 and Evelyn is twenty-six years old. Sheltered doesn’t begin to describe her life. Except for a few years at boarding school, Evelyn has rarely been away from home since she was sent home in disgrace for a minor prank. She is in Beaumont, Texas for a meeting of the Ladies’ Society of Texas.

As she sits in the lobby one evening, the raucous sounds from the town’s red light district. Drawn inexorably to explore a life she has never known, Evelyn enters a singing contest at a nearby saloon. Unfortunately, her indiscretion is discovered and she returns home in disgrace. Her father announces that his “problem” daughter will marry the son of one of his business associates, a man Evelyn cannot stand.

Evelyn decides to flee her home disguised as the temporary maid of a woman who is on her way to El Paso. When she meets Mrs. Smythe on the train, she is somewhat stunned by the woman’s large size, strange clothes, and uncooperative demeanor. Indeed, Mrs. Smythe suggests that she doesn’t want a maid at all. But this is Evelyn’s ticket out of Oiler, Texas and she is not deterred.

In fact, Mrs. Smythe is not Mrs. Smythe at all. Rather, she is a he, one Luke Devereaux, police lieutenant from New Orleans who is trying to find the man who helped frame him for murder. He has assumed the identity of “Mrs. Smythe” to avoid his pursuers and the last thing he wants is a mysterious maid who refuses insists on traveling with him.

The Runaway Heiress is a “road romance.” Luke is on his way to New Mexico to try to find his erstwhile partner. Evelyn is on her way to anywhere other than Oiler, Texas. Her dream is to see the Pacific Ocean. On the way to their respective destinations, they have lots of adventures, face lots of danger, and fall in love.

Evelyn is a heroine on a quest to discover herself. Except for a few minor rebellions, she has passively let her parents determine her life. I found it somewhat unlikely that a young woman, however rich, would have been quite so sheltered in 1911. However, Holm did draw a nice picture of her gradual discovery of her own capacities.

Luke is an honorable fellow who has fallen afoul of the corrupt politics of the New Orleans police department. He tries to dump Evelyn a couple of times, but his sense of responsibility leads him to let her tag along. He knows she is hiding something, but comes to admire her spunk, her person and her personality.

The Runaway Heiress is a perfectly acceptable romance. Did I enjoy it less than I might have because I was expecting more humor than I found? Of did I just not get the humor that it contained? Humor is such an idiosyncratic thing, depending as it does on personal taste and even one’s mood of the moment. Perhaps other readers will find that The Runaway Heiress does in fact contain Holm’s patented humor. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

--Jean Mason


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