Gambler’s Gold by Tori Light
(Leisure, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-29398-00499-5
When I tell you that between starting this book and finishing it literally months lapsed and that I read and reviewed numerous other books while still slowly, painfully slogging page by page through this one, you’ll understand why I’m giving it only one heart. Any book that cannot sustain my interest for even a single chapter is best left alone.

Lydia Seaton is the manager of Gentleman John’s Hotel in Crossroads.

(Ordinarily at this point in a review I’d be informing you of its setting - the time and place of the action. The story fails to specify any definite setting other than the town of Crossroads. It’s clearly set in the United States on a rail line, maybe somewhere around Memphis but maybe not. As for time, it’s in an era of railroads and Pinkerton agents but, judging from the cover art, before the invention of men’s shirts. My guess is sometime post-Civil War, but your guess is as good as mine.)

Lydia was married several years earlier, but on their wedding night, her husband disappeared. Lydia is in the awkward position of being married but not having a husband. Since it appears he abandoned her on their wedding night after a loud argument, she is the object of some pity from the town residents.

Other members of Lydia’s family - her elderly grandmother, one flighty sister who’s man crazy, another sister who wants to become a doctor, and a younger twin brother and sister who could use a lot more supervision - live with her, but virtually the whole responsibility for running the hotel and supporting her family members falls on Lydia.

The twins were playing around and messed up train tracks so caused a derailment. The railroad has hired a Pinkerton agent Nicholas Brown to investigate vandalism and sabotage of the railroad. Nick checks into the hotel where his stunning good looks get appreciation from Lydia and her sister. Nick has additional reason to come to Crossroads to investigate. Someone stole gold from his family, and he is resolved to recover it.

Lydia’s grandfather, Gentleman John, was rumored to have won a lot of gold while gambling, but the family has always adamantly denied the existence of any gold. This, however, has not discouraged fortune hunters from coming to look for it. In fact, that’s how the hotel gets most of its business.

Nick quickly becomes acquainted with Lydia and her scatter-brained family. He cannot help being attracted to the lovely Lydia. But he’s just passing through, isn’t he? Moreover, his faithless dead wife has taught him to distrust women. And then, of course, there’s the inconvenient, absent husband. Deep secrets stand between Lydia’s and Nick’s happiness.

We are informed early in the book that Lydia is the only responsible member of her family. This is not so much commendation for the heroine as it is an indictment of her family members. I would guess we’re supposed to find Lydia’s family whimsical and amusing, but the term that most comes to my mind is ‘flaky.’ The twins have derailed a train. Isn’t that cute? Grandma’s got a little hitch in her get-along these days. And sis with her head in the medical dictionary quoting definitions at inappropriate moments is just more reason for mirth. One question that comes to mind is why Lydia is so insistent that Nick leave town while she stays - plainly, clearing out of town and leaving this bunch behind would be her best move.

The tone of the writing is folksy and down home. Gram smokes a corncob pipe, Lydia makes soap in a kettle, and the dialogue is liberally sprinkled with folksy expressions like: “He is a polecat! As stinky as the one that fell into the old well that winter and like to stunk us out.” And “It was cold enough to split the hide on a toad frog.”

Sexual tension is established by informing us that Lydia is thinking the hero is a good-looking hunk and about how long it’s been since she’s had a man’s arms around her. In short order she’s bathing in the ubiquitous forest pool, the hero gets an eyeful, and quick as a bunny rabbit they’re getting in some serious kissing. But lust is not love, and with all the mixed signals these two are putting out I never thought their feelings were any deeper than an itch that needed scratching.

The two subplots: the missing gold and the missing hubby #1 aren’t very important. They don’t factor much into the primary storyline until a neat wrap-up at the end. The majority of the book is one long parade of episodic incidents. They talk. They eat. They confront one near-disaster after another. Then they talk some more.

With its inane characters, contrived plot, and ambiguous setting, I cannot believe that Gambler’s Gold will appeal to readers. I strongly advise you not gamble with this one - this one is pure dross.

--Lesley Dunlap

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