Ruth Langan starts a new series about the Badlands and the Conover family with Badlands Law. This uneven tale of love in the Dakotas centers on an entertaining romance but has a tired and schmaltzy plotline.
Billie Calley is in big trouble. The reader doesnít discover the extent until almost the end of the book, but Billie is ruled by this problem she has run from. She arrives in Misery, a town of indeterminate size in the Black Hills. She is broke, hungry and begging for work. Billie ends up in the Red Dog Saloon and convinces the owner, Mr. Slade, that she can sing. He dresses her up in a disguise, plops her on the piano and she sings the two songs she knows. Her innocence entrances the men and she has herself a job. Along the way, Billie convinces Slade to allow her to maintain her innocence by helping the cook, rather than to serve as one of the girls.
One of the men in the saloon that night is Sheriff Gabe Conover. He too is entranced, more so because he knows who Billie is. She was involved in a tussle between two cowboys earlier in the day. The Sheriff was struck by her then and is even more under her spell now. He is surprised, as he has managed to hide his emotions and his softer side. Gabe worked hard to be a good sheriff, trying to make up for an outlaw father and a brother who is reportedly an outlaw, too.
As Billie cooks and endears herself to the town, Gabe discovers he likes her. He begins to see her. He introduces her to his family. Billie is thrilled by the attention and revels in the friendships she is making, including Gabeís sister Kitty, and another saloon girl, Grace.
Of course, problems arise. First Billie is accused of a crime, and then her real secret comes out. But true love prevails.
Billie is a wimpy little creature at the beginning. No hint is ever given of her age, but it appears to be young. She is almost too unbelievably innocent. As the story develops, so too does Billie. As she gains physical strength, she becomes more innovative, energetic, and assertive. She starts to show her intelligence and her compassion. She falls hard for Gabe, but keeps alluding to the knowledge that she must live day to day, as one never knows when the trouble will catch up to her.
Gabe is a strong hero for the most part. He has earned the respect of his town and works hard to keep the peace. He laments being attracted to Billie and refers to his past as a reason he never sees himself loving anyone. This was only slightly credible. Gabe and his siblings were raised first by a loving mother, who died when Gabe was ten. They were taken in and raised by rancher Aaron Smiler, who helped them and loved them as his own. There is no real reason given that indicates his cynicism, except that his father is an outlaw of some sort.
The middle part of the story is good. Billie and Gabe are learning about each other, their relationship moves along at a convincing pace and the sexual tension builds. Then the big tragedy occurs and the secret is revealed. The story drags to an unsatisfying conclusion. The resolutions to the two incidents are overly sentimental and idealistic.
Both Billie and Gabe have experienced lifeís blows and had to do things neither are proud of, as one would expect in this historical time. But the characterizations, particularly of Billie, are almost sickening. One of the big incidents involves Billie standing trial for a murder. She acts the martyr and is portrayed as a mistreated and misunderstood angel of mercy. How dare the townspeople shun her! Oh, how dare the author subject the reader to this! Up to this point, I was leaning toward a solid three heart rating. But from this point on, the rating was sinking lower with every page.
Badlands Law is one of those books that is slow to start and gets better as it goes, until about 2/3 into it when it sinks into the badland of mediocrity (excuse the pun). Pass it on by.