Keegan's Lady by Catherine Anderson
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13)
***
Rarely have I awaited a book with as much as anticipation as Keegan's Lady, the latest from Catherine Anderson. I've enjoyed her books since long before, Annie's Song, her recent bestseller. "Cheyenne Amber" and "Coming up Roses" are two of my old favorites.

So.....after finishing Keegan's Lady, I have good news and bad news: "Keegan's Lady" is not "Annie's Song." Sorry, not even close. The good news is that there were moments when I was reminded of why Anderson's writing is so compelling. The bad news is that those moments were mostly in the second half of the book.

Ace Keegan is returning to No Name, Colorado, to settle an old score. Years before, Ace's step-father was lynched by a gang led by Conor O'Shannessy, his land stolen and his family run out of town. Now wealthy, Ace is back to seek revenge on the men who murdered his father. In the process, he encounters O'Shannessy's daughter, Caitlin.

After their first encounter where Ace, overwhelmed with years of anger, humiliates Caitlin, he seems to spend the rest of the book making it up to her. Early in "Keegan's Lady," Caitlin's brother forces them to marry, and they spend the next 200 pages getting to know each other.

Caitlin, abused by her father and sexually assaulted as a teenager, is distrustful of men and sexual intimacy. Keegan quickly discovers that Caitlin is sweet, honest, and ethical -- the exact opposite of her evil father -- and he wants theirs to be a real marriage. Keegan hopes that Caitlin will confide her troubled past to him, but he fails to disclose to her his plans for revenge. (Too early, you can see that this will lead predictably to misunderstandings later.)

In truth, the bulk of the book is spent with Keegan slooowly, gently, wooing Caitlin. Ace Keegan is a wonderful character, caring and honest and sensitive. Caitlin is a fragile, wounded, tentative heroine who never really comes to life until after they consummate their relationship. And then there is this huge change of character---she becomes witty, confident, brave and alive. (Great advertisement for good sex!)

The secondary characters are one of the weaknesses of this book. Caitlin's brother Patrick is the cause of many of Ace and Caitlin's problems, and Ms. Anderson goes to great lengths to show the reason for Caitlin's unwavering loyalty to her brother. But his character was so unsympathetic that Caitlin's loyalty was very difficult to understand. Her seemingly unlimited capacity to forgive him made her appear, at times, very weak . . . or at least, misguided. And the rotten, evil sheriff was a cliched, cardboard character.

Perhaps I am being overly critical, but the sheer originality and fast-pacing of Annie's Song was missing from Keegan's Lady. What I did find was Catherine Anderson's trademark memorable characters and some well-written dialogue. In the final analysis, an average book by Catherine Anderson is still a pretty good read.

--Dede Anderson


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