Montana Morning

 
Come What May by Jill Limber
(Zebra, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-821-76529-9
***
Amanda Giles has traveled to meet with General Allen at the Union camp near Cincinnati. Her brother Andrew, who had been a spy for the Union Army, had described his secret contact to her before his death. Based on his description, Amanda, a talented artist, has drawn a sketch of his likeness. With the sketch and papers Andrew has entrusted to her, another person can take his place and the source of important information about Confederate troops and supplies can continue.

General Allen, however, has another idea. Since Amanda so closely resembles her brother, he suggests that she disguise herself as Andrew. Captain Daniel McGrath is opposed to the idea because Amanda is a woman. Amanda, however, feels guilty that Andrew contracted typhoid while providing her with an escort so she allows General Allen to persuade her.

Disguised as a boy, Amanda travels with Daniel on an Ohio River steamboat. They are unable to locate Andrew’s contact, but Amanda is instrumental in discovering a cache of gold intended to buy guns and ammunition for the Confederate Army.

When they return to camp, Amanda continues her disguise as a boy. She believes that her sketches of camp life can help advance her career as an artist. Daniel is determined that Amanda should end her brief stint as a Union spy and return to New York where she will be safe. The outcome of a surprise raid and circumstances, however, will change both their lives. Together they will travel to Virginia to the heart of the Confederacy in a daring attempt to uncover secrets that will aid the Union cause and where their feelings for each other will grow.

This book falls squarely into the “road book” category. Amanda and Daniel are on their way to one place or another for virtually the entire story. This provides the author with an opportunity to introduce a variety of characters and situations, and for the hero and heroine to meet constantly changing challenges. Some of these, such as Amanda’s first-hand experiences with slave trading, have a more authentic feel than many romances set in the same time and region. Others, such as the strange episode where Daniel and Amanda pose as an English duke and duchess (with incorrect titles and forms of address) and meet up with a stereotypical bitchy other woman, do little to advance the plot or the mood.

As can occur on many lengthy journeys, the course of this book takes occasional detours. Hints of future complications, such as Amanda’s claustrophobia, simply peter out. Much of my dissatisfaction with the book stems from the lack of a tight plot. They meet, they travel around a lot, they fall in love, they do good things, they fall more in love, and that’s about it. Some editing could have curtailed the tendency of the plot to meander and brought a needed sense of direction to the story line.

The strongest aspects of the book are the characters of Amanda and Daniel and the depth of affection between them. The author has not allowed her characters to fall into the I-love-you-I-hate-you trap. They acknowledge their attraction -- at least to themselves -- early in the story, and their feelings only grow with time. The conflict between them arises more from the circumstances of the dangers they face than any artificially contrived source.

Every once in a while I’ll read a book with decent characters and an acceptable plot but without that certain spark that’s necessary for a truly memorable book. This is one of those times. I liked the hero and heroine a lot. They’re nice people, and it’s easy to believe that they could fall in love. The plot rolls along satisfactorily with only a minor Big Misunderstanding near the end, but it never really goes anywhere. Well, it goes lots of places geographically, but there’s not much sense of progress. Come What May is an acceptable book but not one I can recommend whole-heartedly.

--Lesley Dunlap


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