I like brave heroines, but I get irritated with heroines who do rash actions just to prove they are brave, capable, etc. and land in more trouble. Wonderfully, Leslie LaFoy has created a brave, strong heroine in Maddie’s Justice who does not fall into that trap.
Maddie Rutledge has been in a frontier jail 18 months when U.S. Marshal Rivlin Kilpatrick arrives to transport her to Fort Leavenworth to testify at a trial. She ended up sentenced to 20 years for murder after she killed a man she caught raping and beating one of her ten-year-old students. The man was the son of the local corrupt Indian agent and the nephew of the judge. Because Maddie had been vocal in the community about the casual and criminal mistreatment of the Indians, she couldn’t even get a lawyer to defend her. The result was prison.
Rivlin Kilpatrick was surprised that the prisoner he was transporting was a woman. He had been ordered to do the job at the last minute. On the first night of their trip, the sleazy property clerk from the fort tries to kill them. Instead, Rivlin has to kill him and discovers 500 dollars on him. He alters their route, but another attempt is made on their lives. This time, one of the assassins lives and can only tell them that his unseen employer wants proof that both Rivlin and Maddie are dead.
This starts a journey to discover who wants them dead and how they can stay alive. The route takes them physically to Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. It also takes them back in their memories to past encounters with some very unpleasant men.
Maddie is a woman who has never had a real break in her life. She has no memories of parents and grew up in a strict church orphanage in Iowa. Her name was even chosen by the people at the orphanage. She learned all the rules, but did rebel against the strictness. By the time Rivlin meets her, she is afraid to hope for anything because she has been disappointed so many times.
Rivlin is from a large, wealthy family. He rebelled at seventeen and joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Because his family owned a munitions plant, he could have spent the war working there. After the war and his father’s death, he tried to come back and work at the family business, but his first-hand knowledge of death made him not want to manufacture more guns. He is haunted by the unusual death of his close friend during the war and has yet to come to terms with it.
The two of them build a trusting relationship as they face the threats. They fight the attraction between them because they both have strong ethical codes. One of the strengths of the story is how the author puts them in different situations that cause each of them to examine how they look at themselves. These examinations lead to changes that bring them closer and closer together. This doesn’t make the book too introspective because these thought processes are deftly combined with a lot of action and dialogue to keep it exciting.
The secondary characters add depth to the story. Although a cliché in many Western stories, this madam with the heart of gold is not totally a cardboard character. I did find it hard to believe that she could be such a successful businesswoman without knowing how to read, but I liked how she was so unapologetic about her career choice. Rivlin’s family is a delight and reminded me of the Stephanie Laurens’ Cynsters in their “one for all and all for one” attitude.
Despite the depressing start, Maddie’s Justice is not a depressing story. There is so much tenderness and sweetness between Maddie and Rivlin. They work together, not against each other as they pursue the truth. There were no big misunderstandings, only the usual uncertainty couples go through. The ending does stretch credibility a little, but I was willing to believe.
--B. Kathy Leitle