|I’ve enjoyed most of Anna Jeffrey’s contemporary western romances.
Her characters are authentic, almost disturbingly so, and their
relationships, while sweet and tender, are as complicated and
conflictual as reality. Unfortunately, Salvation, Texas doesn’t show the same depth and talent.
Rusty Joplin and Elena Ryder grew up together. He was her best
friend, her confidant, her first and only true love. Then, her
wealthy father came between them and forced them to join the ranks of
The intervening years haven’t been particularly good for them. Elena
works in the local hospital as a nurse. Although she has had lovers,
she continues to live with her overly possessive father. Rusty has
had one failed marriage and a successful career as a police
investigator in Fort Worth. He has recently returned to his home
town, where he won a highly contested election for sheriff against
Ryder’s candidate. Elena’s father is indeed no more welcoming now
than he was a decade earlier. The sudden death of Elena’s older
sister, Carla, doesn’t help matters.
To Rusty’s trained eyes the tragic accident hints at foul play, but
the entire family is bent on opposing his investigation. Elena and
her sister withhold information; Elena’s brother-in-law, Gary, won’t
cooperate; and her father uses his wealth and political clout to try
to prevent, among other things, the autopsy. Of course, obstacles are
omnipresent in the life of a fictional lawman, but usually they serve
some meaningful purpose. Here, they neither escalate the suspense,
nor dramatize Rusty’s investigative skills, nor even contribute to
This tendency to make too much out of nothing undermines the
plotting. Rusty pursues several possibilities that were so obviously
red herrings I was screaming at him to get on with it. Then, there’s
the neurotic Ryder family, which has enough going on to make me
expect some long buried secret. The father’s domineering and
controlling attitude is a little unhealthy, and Carla’s marital and
extra-marital relationships hint at something bizarre, so much so
that I held my breath for the big revelation. It never came.
Unusually for a romance, most of the story is told from Rusty’s point
of view, depriving us of any sustained insights into Elena’s
character. Since her motivations are fairly transparent, her
secondary role wouldn’t have bothered me too much, if I could have
watched the former lovers get to know each other again. With Elena’s
limited involvement in the investigation, they don’t have many
opportunities. Or rather, they use those opportunities for different
ends. While great sex is a good thing, it’s not a sufficient
guarantee for an enduring relationship.
Jeffrey’s sharp eye for detail contributes to the novel’s realistic
overtone, but her penchant for description is also stifling. I would
have gladly passed on the minute-by-minute account of how Rusty puts
his calls through to the Texas Rangers and on the lengthy
descriptions of his domestic habits.
All in all, Salvation, Texas has potential, but it is too
schizophrenic to really enjoy. Although certainly readable, it
doesn’t live up to Jeffrey’s promise.
-- Mary Benn