The Love of a Cowboy

The Love of a Lawman

The Love of a Stranger

Sweet Water

Salvation, Texas
by Anna Jeffrey
Signet Eclipse, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-451-22008-0
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 star-crossed lovers.

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 the romance.

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

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