The Midnight Moon

Molly in the Middle

Blue-Eyed Bandit by Stobie Piel
(Love Spell, $5.50, R) ISBN 0-505-52394-9
Blue-Eyed Bandit isn't an easy novel to grade. Have you ever really liked a book, but felt that there were way too many plot contrivances, not enough explanations about focal points that should have been further explored, and perhaps a handful too many coincidences threaded throughout the story line? If you have, then you can empathize with my quandary.

Blue-Eyed Bandit, the sequel to Free Falling, is a five heart read in the love scene department, a four heart read in the humor and plot departments, but in terms of plausibility and a smooth flow of the story line, it's more like a two heart read. Geeky or not, I actually averaged out my scores to arrive at an overall three. Shuffle the scores around according to what you place importance on in your reading and perhaps you can then better decide whether or not you wish to make a drive over to your local bookstore to purchase this novel.

Darian Woodward was hanged as a treasonist on May 21, 1870. Called the Blue-Eyed Bandit, he was credited for terrorizing the Southwest through a series of robberies and murders. Cora and Adrian (the protagonists from Free Falling) are disgusted by how the history book they are reading from has remembered Darian; they knew Darian from their own time traveling experience in the past and don't believe the charges against such an honorable man for a moment. Grieving for a friend who met a bad end, they decide that someone must journey back to the past to save him.

Since Cora is nine months pregnant, they know that neither one of them can go back. The task falls to their friend Emily Morgan, who doesn't really believe what Cora and Adrian are telling her about this time traveling nonsense, but decides for her own reasons to go along with it. As it turns out, her friends hadn't lied and Emily soon finds herself swept away by a mystical whirlwind that carries her into Arizona's past.

It doesn't take long for Emily to find Darian. The renegade officer soon begins to grow on her with his Victorian, gentlemanly ways, but Emily has been unlucky in love before, so she determines not to succumb to Darian's charm. Besides, her mission is to save him, not to fall in love with him. Now if only she didn't need to keep reminding herself of that fact...

Darian Woodward is a Civil War hero, but his conniving, traitorous commander made him look like a villain to protect himself from the noose after Darian found out that he is crooked. On the run, Darian's first priority is to clear his good name by bringing the commander to justice. When he meets Emily, however, he slowly begins to wonder if there is more to life than what his has revolved around up until this point.

If Emily is correct and he doesn't change the course he's following, he will die by a hanging. Worse yet, he will die for no reason because his good name is never cleared in the history books. Darian finds himself in need of a new strategy. He's not ready to die, especially since he's found Emily. He's young. He's in love. And he's a virgin.

Stobie Piel has penned one hell of a sexy hero. When Darian's well mannered, Victorian upbringing (and the images of passive female sexuality such an upbringing creates) is put to the test by being coupled off with a woman from the year 2001 who actually likes having sex, the result is sizzle, sizzle, and more sizzle. Add into that the fact that Darian is a virgin and is therefore as ready to be plucked from the tree of innocence as a ripe Georgia peach (how's that for purple prose?), and you get some of the hottest love scenes this side of the border.

The heroine is another winning character. She comes off as a little ditzy at first, but she grows on you more and more as the novel progresses. Emily turns out to be smart as a whip and an extremely useful (and humorous) heroine to have around.

Where Blue-Eyed Bandit runs into problems is with the fantasy elements of the novel. In order for a paranormal story line to work, the reader must not only be expected to suspend their beliefs, but the author must also meet the reader half way by creating scenarios that are at least semi-plausible to our skeptical minds. Anything less feels contrived, which is exactly what goes wrong with this book.

For starters, the mystical whirlwind that Adrian summons to sweep Emily into the past is simply not believable. If a phenomenon can be summoned, explanations are in order. Another fantasy element of the novel that is poorly executed is when Piel brings reincarnation into play. Not only is this aspect of the plot unnecessary to the growth of the story line and characters, but it actually has the opposite effect and detracts from the book as a whole. This is a case of trying to jam too many elements into one novel when only a couple of them should be touched on, for clarity's sake if nothing else.

When all is said and done, Blue-Eyed Bandit is an enjoyable experience. The fantasy aspects could have been better formulated, but the characters are superb and the plot itself has much to recommend it.

--Tina Engler

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