The Bodyguard

The Cowboy

The Texan

 
Comanche Woman by Joan Johnston
(Dell, $7.50, R) ISBN 0-440-23680-0
***
I don’t read much historical western romance and this book is pretty typical of why. If you read and enjoy this sub-genre - it other words, if you love idealized fantasies in which the early American West embodies a better, simpler time in spite of the dangers - you will probably enjoy this book more than I.

Three years ago, Comanches stole Bayleigh Stewart, the tall, red-headed, middle daughter of a wealthy Texan, from her father’s plantation. Cricket, her sister, never lost hope of finding Bay and urges her husband’s friend, Long Quiet, to search for her.

Long Quiet, son of a Comanche woman and a white father, spent his early years among The People, then went to Boston to receive a conventional, white education. As an adult, however, he rejected the white man’s ways.

Fascinated by the gangly wallflower he once saw at a dance in Boston, Long Quiet has his own reasons for hoping to find Bay. In addition, Cricket’s husband, Jarrett Creed, wants him to go to Mexico and help a group of Texans who are breaking out of a Mexican jail.

Fortunately, Long Quiet doesn’t have an important job like all the white men so he’s free to take all this on.

Returning to the Comancheria, Long Quiet overhears a drunken brave speak of the tall, red-headed white woman secretly held captive by a warrior chief named Many Horses. On his way to investigate, Long Quiet saves the life of another Comanche. The two declare themselves blood brothers and, of course, the rescuee turns out to be the man he seeks. They return to Many Horses’ village where, desperate to repay Long Quiet for saving his life, the proud chief offers Long Quiet the use of the tall, red-headed woman they call Shadow for the duration of his stay.

I should warn you that I’m not a fan of the rather stilted, slightly over-written style that’s become the standard tonality for many western romances. (I don’t know who began this convention, but I’d love to go back in time and break her typewriter.) Ms. Johnston’s characters also have the unfortunate tendency to make little speeches whenever there’s something she wants us to know, about either the story or Texas history. It might be informative, but it isn’t conversation.

The hero and heroine live in a typical romance version of the American West, which is to say, a largely sanitized and politically correct interpretation of frontier life that will not offend squeamish romance readers. Instead of being rejected by both Indians and whites for his mixed blood, Long Quiet is a “gray-eyed Comanche in buckskins who wandered easily between the worlds of the Indian and the White-eyes.” If only we enjoyed such tolerance today. And although Bay is reviled and ostracized by the Comanches because they believe she is an evil witch, they hand over a precious baby for her to rear when the mother dies in childbirth - apparently no one raised a word of protest.

This author can be an engaging story-teller, but too often the plot rambles hither and yon while she searches for ways to keep things going for 385 pages. There’s no real sense of urgency to anything. Bay was happy, but not that unhappy, living with the Comanches, and she’s unhappy, but not that unhappy, when she gets home. In fact, the woman is such a doormat I kept expecting Long Quiet to find “welcome” tattooed on her back. And all her self-sacrificing is rendered tedious rather than noble by the fact that she could have avoided much of it with a couple of simple questions.

Long Quiet has some attractive qualities, but for much of the book he’s a cardboard hero, stiff and two-dimensional. He consistently does just about what you’d expect. In fact, everybody does just about what you’d expect.

This book is interconnected with others by Ms. Johnston, but it won’t have me running out to find them. I couldn’t get excited about it, one way or the other.

--Judi McKee


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