A Dime Novel Hero by Maureen McKade
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-79504-3
****
Hero worship - Profound or excessive admiration for popular heroes or for other persons revered as ideals.

Kit Thornton, age 10, has a bad case of hero worship. There is no cure, especially when your hero is Jake Cordell, the handsomest 17 year-old-boy in Chaney, Wyoming. She's young enough to be hurt by the cruel taunts of "Fatty Fatty Four-Eyes!" and has spent more than enough time on the outside looking in to welcome his attention. Jake offers her more than her own father can or the wild maimed animals that she nurses back to health. He's like a knight in shining armor, dashing to her rescue the stuff that little girl's dreams are made of.

Fourteen years later, Kit still has that case of hero worship, and an ongoing penchant for bringing home strays. The handsomest boy in town has come home a hardened man, and Kit has a lot of explaining to do. She's responsible, under the pseudonym T. K. Thorn, for the hero worship which many folks now hold for Jake Cordell, bounty hunter and fast draw. She wrote the dime novels about his search for his father's murderer. She built, starting with her little girl's love and admiration, the image of Jake Cordell, hero. But her authorship of the dime novels isn't the only thing that she wonders how long she can hide from him. The novels almost seem trivial, compared to the fact that she now owns his father's ranch, and is mother to his son, Johnny. A son that he doesn't know exists and won't know... if she can help it.

Jake Cordell has returned to his hometown his father's murderer is finally in jail. He's ready to hang up his six-shooters, and wants desperately to regain his father's ranch. His mother deserted him and his father remained too distant for a young boy who desperately craved affection. Somehow, raising horses on the ranch seems to be the answer to his search for love, family, and home. He's led a hard life the past 14 years, and sees in himself no relationship to the heroic image of Jake Cordell, dime novel hero. Instead, to himself, he's a hardened desperado, not even worthy of a place in the barn with the rest of Kit's rescued animals.

Kit and Jake are finely crafted characters, well thought out and nicely presented. The path of their love is strewn with minor misunderstandings, small town bigotry, deception and betrayal. The secondary characters (which even included Jake's horse Zeus) were just the right blend to add to the spice of their exciting attraction for each other. I'm grateful that the author didn't dwell on some of the usual aspects of western romances there were no posses formed, no perilous flights across the wild west, no gun fights in the middle of the street, no hangings, and no confrontations in the saloon. Instead, McKade concentrated on the relationship between Kit and Jake, and the people around them.

This is a well crafted novel, including the excerpts from T. K. Thorn's point of view. Something happens and Kit's mind snaps into "author overdrive," and suddenly she's writing daring escapades with sprinklings of overblown romanticism in her head. I enjoyed McKade's ability to switch back and forth from the stilted prose of T. K. Thorn's dime novels to Kit and Jake's lyrical love story.

I must admit I've got a bad case of hero worship now myself, Jake was quite a man! Plus, I really liked his horse.

--Julia S. Sandlin


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