has also reviewed:

Brides of Prairie Gold

Promise of Jenny Jones

The Best Man by Maggie Osborne
(Warner, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-60527-1
The Best Man is a fast-paced, winning combination of romance and adventure in the Wild West. On one level, this book is a simple, classic story of good guys versus bad guys. On another level, it's a complex tale about relationships, redemption, and respect. The Best Man is about love; but it's not just about the love that exists between a man and a woman, it's also about the love that exists between sisters. And, The Best Man is a journey of self-discovery for it's richly drawn characters who learn through adversity that they are capable of achieving much more then they ever thought possible.

Alexander, Frederick and Lester are the daughters, by different mothers, of a wealthy cattleman, Joe Roark. These women have very little in common except a father who wanted boys and an evil stepmother, Lola, whom they all despise. After years of drifting apart, the sisters have reunited to bury their father. Although raised as ladies, Alex, Freddy and Les are going to have exchange their lace for leather and learn very quickly how to become cowboys. According to the terms of their father's will, the sisters must all be working members of a cattle drive from Texas to Kansas in order to inherit his fortune. If they are not successful in driving two thousand steers to Abilene, then Roark's fourth and "worst wife," Lola, gets everything.

The first order of business for the Roark sisters is to find a trail boss. However, when the reputable candidates hear the terms of the will and realize they would actually have to use three women in place of the usual contingent of cowboys, they all decline the work. So the sisters turn to the only candidate desperate enough to take them on – Dal Frisco. Past mistakes made during the Civil War started Dal drinking and as result he lost his last two herds and his reputation as the best trail boss in the business. Sober for the past eighteen months, Dal needs to prove himself.

Dal is looking for a second chance and he knows that taking on the Roark sisters may be the only second chance he'll ever get. Not that he's thrilled with the idea, turning ladies into full-fledged working members of a cattle drive isn't going to be easy – especially since these women don't seem to know the difference between a cow and a steer. In addition, Dal is not happy about his strong attraction to Freddy Roark. Still, even though he knows the Roark sisters present a substantial threat to the success of this venture, he accepts their offer. Besides needing the work, he's got an old score to settle with Lola.

When it comes to problems, each of the Roark sisters has her own unique set: Alex Roark Mills, the eldest, is in a wheelchair. Alex is the aristocrat of the family, the daughter who eloped to Boston to get away from the ranch. She is haunted by a tragic accident that killed her husband and caused her right leg to be amputated from the knee down. If Alex doesn't go on this cattle drive, she is going to have to sell the only thing she has left: her beloved Boston home.

Freddy Roark lost her reputation years ago because she ran away from home to become an actress; now she hopes to "act" her way through being a cowboy. Freddy's dream is to take her share of the inheritance and start her own theater. She is not surprised at her attraction to Dal; Freddy believes that if she were in a room full of good, decent men and one son of a bitch, she would be attracted to the son of a bitch.

The youngest Roark, Les, is shy and insecure. She is afraid to go on the cattle drive but she is even more afraid of losing her fiancé, Ward. He tells her she must go and get her share of the inheritance so he can live like a Roark. Ward continuously reminds Les he is the only man who would ever be willing to marry a twenty-five-year-old spinster. Ward makes all of Les' decisions for her and she doesn't complain when he slaps her around.

I have to admit I was hooked after reading the first ten pages of The Best Man. Ms. Osborne draws you quickly into her story; she imbues her characters with rich and complex personalities. These sisters not only have their own personal problems, they also have issues with each other and about their respective places in the Roark family.

For example, Alex still resents that she had to spend her youth caring for her younger sisters when she wasn't much older herself. Freddy hated always having to make do with Alex's hand-me-downs and she resents Les for being her father's favorite. The rich characterizations make for a very impressive introduction. The sisters became so real to me, so quickly; that I felt compelled to read on in order to find out what happens to them.

Despite being impressed by the fast-paced beginning, I did feel that the setup for this tale is a bit inconsistent. That is, Joe Roark gives all his daughters boys' names, but then he insists that they be ladies and stay away from the barn while they are growing up. Then, after spending his entire life telling his daughters to be ladies, their father suddenly changes his mind at the end of his life and insists that his daughters learn what it's like to be Joe Roark, to be cowboys.

And, how could these women have grown up on a cattle ranch, with their hard-talking father, and not even know the lingo? The scene where Freddy refers to steers as "cows" and a herd as a "pack" is too absurd to be funny. Fortunately, the story line's brisk pace doesn't leave much time, or inclination, to dwell on these inconsistencies.

Three-quarters of this tale take place along the Chisholm Trail; the cattle drive provides the backdrop for an exciting combination of action and romance. And, yes, we discover that even cowgirls, especially cowgirls, get the blues. During this drive, these "ladies" turn into women – women who are capable of achieving more than they or anyone else thought possible, women who learn to respect themselves and each other. Finally, there's some very fine romance to be found along this journey of self-discovery for the Roark sisters.

Although the romance between Dal and Freddy evolves steadily and enjoyably throughout the book, it was the romance that occurred during the cattle drive between Alex and a wounded Confederate doctor that really captured my interest. And, even though I admit the ending seems a bit like it was made for television, the resolution made my eyes go misty and I smiled. So my advice is to go to the bookstore and read the first ten pages of The Best Man. If you like what you have read, then buy the book, the following four hundred pages do not disappoint.

--Judith Flavell

@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home